Priest Holmes first came to the Ravens as an undrafted Free Agent in 1997 out of Texas University. He didn’t see much of the field as a runner that rookie season as he was stuck on the depth chart behind Bam Morris, Earnest Byner and Jay Graham.
Opportunities opened up for Holmes the following season. Bam Morris had been released and Byner retired. That left Holmes to compete with Graham and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Errict Rhett who was sent over in a trade for a third round draft pick.
Starter Jay Graham suffered a knee injury during the 1998 season’s second game against the New York Jets. Interestingly enough, that injury would signal the end of Graham’s career in Baltimore and the NFL. But I think I’ll explore those details in another post.
Head Coach Ted Marchibroda didn’t really care for vet Eric Rhett’s style so he turned to his third string player and gave him his first starting job in Week Four against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Holmes rewarded his coach with a huge day as he exploded for 173 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 victory over the Bengals in his debut.
Seven games later, Holmes would have his best performance as he torched the Bengals defense for a club-record 227 yards and a TD in a 20-13 win against Cincinnati. He finished the season as the unquestioned starter and had piled up 1,008 yards on the ground in 13 games to go with 7 touchdowns.
However there were changes ahead regarding the direction of the Baltimore franchise.
After a fourth place finish in the AFC Central at 6-10 the organization felt that it was time to bid farewell to Coach Marchibroda and usher in the era of Brian Billick. That change became an important one in the career of Priest Holmes in Baltimore because frankly Billick didn’t see Holmes as a starting running back in the NFL and he told him as much in 1999.
Said Holmes, “Billick called me into his office and said, ‘Priest, you’re just not the guy I imagine coming down the tunnel. In this league, we have big, intimidating backs, like Corey Dillon and Jerome Bettis.”
Holmes was 5’9″, 205 pounds.
That 1999 season was a forgettable one for Holmes who suffered a knee sprain in the season opener against the St.Louis Rams. He fought injuries most of the season and was supplanted by Rhett as the feature back. He finished the season appearing in 9 games and gained 506 yards (5.7 ypc) with only 1 score.
That next season the Ravens drafted the huge bruiser that Billick longed for in Jamal Lewis in the first round. While Holmes played a vital backup role in the Ravens championship season in 2000, it would be his last in Baltimore.
That next season Holmes entered free agency and would go on to Pro Bowl success in Kansas City as he led the league in rushing in 2001. He would also gain All Pro and Pro Bowl honors three times before his retirement in 2008.
I think Holmes departure was simply a result of a player not fitting a coach’s vision and system. While I loved “The Beast” in the backfield (and the league title he helped win) I did often wonder if Holmes would have had the same success if he continued his career in purple and black.
So I wonder what you guys think?
Did the Ravens make the right move in letting Holmes go?