It appears that the Ravens front office is following through on their promise to remake the WR room. Out are Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace, in are Michael Crabtree and John Brown. Michael Campanaro appears unlikely to return, although that remains a possibility. Chris Moore should be a roster lock as a key special teamer, but the rest of those returning are question marks in terms of fit and role. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Ravens will draft at least one wide receiver, and likely more than one.
But the Ravens seem very interested in adding one more receiver before the draft, and it appears they want a starting-caliber slot receiver. This makes perfect sense – if they can roll out a starting three of Crabtree, Brown, and this new signing, there would be no pressure on a rookie to make an immediate impact. It would allow any rookies to come in, learn the playbook, and perhaps be a part of a few sub packages while they acclimate to the league.
That said, some of the receivers the Ravens have had in could not look more different from one another. On Thursday Eric Decker visited, but prior to that it looked like the Ravens were pursuing two different restricted free agents to play in the slot. Let’s contrast those two for a minute and speculate which would be a better fit with Joe Flacco.
Willie Snead got his start with the Saints after not making the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Snead didn’t end up appearing in any games in 2014, but made an impact in New Orleans in the second half of the 2015 season. He finished that season with 69 catches for 984 yards and three touchdowns. In 2016, the Saints added Michael Thomas in the second round, yet Snead’s production remained steady, finishing with 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns. 2017 was a lost year due to suspension and injury. Snead is a superior route runner, but is undersized (5’11” and 195 lbs.), and a poor athlete. He creates separation by being a technician – he’ll never be a deep threat. He fits best in a quick-strike system, consistent with what Sean Payton has run in New Orleans.
Cam Meredith couldn’t look any different as a prospect – he has great size (6’3”, 207 lbs.), and is a tremendous athlete (4.42 40, 39 inch vertical, 6.76 3 cone). Meredith was an undrafted free agent in 2015, who saw limited snaps his rookie year while he transitioned from quarterback to wide receiver. In 2016, Meredith took advantage of circumstances and had a breakout season, finishing with 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns. Like Snead, his 2017 was a season lost to injury. While Snead creates space by running precise routes, Meredith creates space by being physical against press when required, and by simply being faster and more athletic than his opponent. His route running needs work, which shouldn’t be a surprise for someone who has basically played wide receiver for two years in his life. But his upside far exceeds that of Snead – Meredith would make a great slot receiver, but he has the opportunity to excel on the outside, and could even take over for Crabtree in 2-3 years.
With the deadline for restricted free agents coming up quickly on April 20th, the Ravens need to make a decision as to which of these receivers they want to sign to an offer sheet, and soon. There isn’t really a scenario where there will be enough time to sign one of them to an offer sheet, wait five days to have the original team match, then sign the other to an offer sheet. So if the Ravens want one of these two receivers, they will need to act now.
Meredith has the upside to become a real building block if the Ravens can structure a deal the Bears choose not to match. The Bears may have plenty of cap space, but they are in the process of remaking their own WR room. Having just signed WRs Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, along with pass-catching TE Trey Burton, they may not value Meredith as high as the Ravens would.
If the Ravens were able to sign either of the restricted free agents, it would free them up on draft day to perhaps take a higher upside receiver who may not be able to contribute right away. The team still needs to address the position, but I personally would rather see them take a few swings at the type of player who would be here beyond their rookie contract.
Either way, adding one more receiver pre-draft can only be a good thing at this point – here’s hoping the Ravens can close a deal in the next week or two.
UPDATE: 3:38 PM
Terms update: Saints signing Bears’ RFA WR Cameron Meredith to a 2-year offer sheet, per source. Expecting money to be about $5 million per year – 2 years, roughly $10 million.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 6, 2018
Cameron Meredith has signed an offer sheet from the New Orleans Saints for 2 years in the neighborhood of $10M. With that new information, it appears that the slot position will go to either Snead or Eric Decker. Decker is similarly sized to Meredith (listed at 6’3”, 214 lbs) who began his career on the outside, and like many receivers before him, should be able to extend his career a bit by moving into the slot.
Flacco has typically been willing to give his short area receivers (Mason, Boldin, Steve Smith) a chance to make contested catches without requiring significant separation. Decker would likely be able to use his size and physicality to fill in this role, albeit without the ceiling that Meredith would’ve brought.
Snead is a bit more similar to Derrick Mason when he was in Baltimore, but would probably require a greater commitment. With New Orleans dedicating most of their remaining cap space to Meredith, I imagine they wouldn’t attempt to keep Snead if someone were to sign him to an offer sheet. With Crabtree and Decker both in their 30s and Brown on a 1 year deal, I’d prefer the Ravens to try to sign Snead, so they would be less at risk of needing to overhaul the entire room again in a year’s time.