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Eric DeCosta
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 29: General manager Eric DeCosta of the Baltimore Ravens looks on from the sidelines against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Prior to the 2021 NFL Draft the Ravens inquired about the availability of Julio Jones via trade. The asking price was a 2022 No. 1 pick, a cost that was deemed prohibitive by GM Eric DeCosta. Following the draft, the market value for Jones eroded a bit as did Atlanta’s asking price.

On Sunday we learned that the Titans acquired Jones for a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 fourth-round pick. The Titans also picked up the Falcons 2023 sixth-round pick.

So, on the surface, the Titans get a future Hall of Fame player for a very fair price.

Ravens fans, starving for a stud X-receiver are struggling to understand why DeCosta wouldn’t pony up those picks for a player who on the surface would dramatically change the team’s receivers room. Clearly Jones, as a member of the Ravens offense, would have been problematic for opposing defensive coordinators. And as appealing as a Lamar-Dobbins-Andrews-Brown-Watkins-Jones offense would have been, there were inherent risks.

As a 32-year-old receiver with ankle and knee issues, and one who sat out seven games in 2020 due to a hamstring injury, the ailments have to be somewhat concerning and they call into question Jones’ ability to perform to the level of his contract. And here’s something else to keep in mind. What exactly is the acquiring team getting? A big name for sure but is the player 100% of the one he was in 2019 or something measurably less? Keep in mind, Father Time is undefeated.

And let’s not forget the M.O. of the Ravens offense – a run-first team. Might a player who has been targeted on average, 10 times per game throughout his career, grow frustrated in an offense that prefers to ground opponents into submission?

Consideration also must be given to the players in which the Ravens invested significant draft capital. Organizations that flourish are those that can develop young talent which can outproduce the levels of their respective contracts. That affords a team the ability to keep their star players or even productive starters who are about to graduate to their second contract. Jones would be a deterrent in the development process of someone like Devin Duvernay or Tylan Wallace. Maybe even Rashod Bateman.

In 2022 the Ravens will have to address the contracts of several players including Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews. But the list is rather extensive and includes the likes of Bradley Bozeman. Gus Edwards was removed from the list via his 2-year contract extension announced yesterday. Plus, there is some long-in-the-tooth, albeit productive talent, that will move on and need to be replaced – players like Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Pernell McPhee and Jimmy Smith. Those replacements won’t come cheaply in an NFL with a cap that swells to $208.2M in 2022.

Then of course there’s Jones’ contract that would need to be absorbed into a cap that has little flexibility and in need of capologist Pat Moriarty’s creative assistance. If there’s a will, there’s a way with the salary cap and the Ravens could have done a few restructures to fit Jones in if they wanted to. But kicking the can down the road has its consequences and one of them could have been that the team really can’t afford to keep a player they covet.

This offseason the Ravens bolstered their offensive line. They’ve brought in a couple of new coaches to help improve their aerial attack and they’ve added talent to the receivers room, albeit not one that includes a player who averages 95.5 YPG and 4 ½ first downs per contest. The Ravens already look like an improved offense, on paper. And if that improvement finds its way onto the field, it’s safe to conclude that DeCosta is better off investing his available resources in a player that can give the pass rush a boost or provide depth across the defensive front.

At the end of the day, the best NFL GM’s spread their resources in a way that produces more of the most important stat of all – wins! And if Julio Jones was a sure bet, there would have been more teams involved competing for his services. But at best, the market for Jones was lukewarm, all things considered. There’s probably a reason for that and we’ll all get to find out on the Titans’ watch.

Not the Ravens.

Win Now

Fans will often embrace the notion that their team should go all-in to win this season at the expense of future seasons. And if there was a guarantee that a championship can be achieved that way, more teams would embrace the approach. But there are no guarantees.

Had the Ravens gone all-in to acquire Julio Jones and not advanced beyond the Divisional Round in 2021, there would be a price to pay. Their cap would be weaker, the young receivers would have taken on a lesser workload and missed out on valuable experiences and they’d be lighter on draft capital. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.

One Man’s Treasure

There’s an old saying that is employed often in and around the NFL when players move from one team to the next. “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash”. In other words, one team can’t wait to get rid of a certain player while another can’t wait to sign the “new” shiny toy. Julio Jones seems to fit that description in some ways, especially after considering this odd tweet from the Falcons official Twitter account.

Wink’s Way

In 2020 Yannick Ngakoue did not produce for the Ravens as anticipated. Jaylon Ferguson, through two seasons, hasn’t delivered the sack production that many expected given his collegiate accomplishments. Perhaps Wink Martindale’s scheme isn’t a fit for all edge defenders. Maybe the exotic nature of Wink’s design which demands more from players on the boundaries of the defensive front, doesn’t synch up with the skill set of some players.

Recently, outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins shared this about Jaylon:

“The thing I’m most excited about with Jaylon [Ferguson] is how he’s in such great shape right now, and he really has a grasp of the playbook that he hasn’t had the last two years. It’s just every year, he’s getting sharper and sharper with it, to the point now where he really is telling the young guys what to do, which is exciting to see – a guy take that leap to that point. And he’s running to the football, he’s playing with great effort. He’s really checking all the boxes right now for us.”

Think less. Let the innate skills take over.

It only happens through familiarity and repetitions.

And it makes you wonder just how productive players like Justin Houston or Melvin Ingram or Olivier Vernon would be from the jump in Baltimore.

Ja’Wuan James

Eric DeCosta is an outside-the-box thinker. He cleverly turns an extra leg in camp into a 5th round draft pick (remember Kaare Vedvik?), lands a Pro Bowl corner for a backup linebacker and nearly leveraged the Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire Jadeveon Clowney in 2020 while attempting to circumvent cap issues. The latter had the league’s collective head spinning and eventually they denied the creative attempt from DeCosta. But that didn’t dampen DeCosta’s ingenuity and yesterday he was back it at again.

The Ravens made a commitment to improve their offensive line this offseason. They signed Kevin Zeitler, Alejandro Villanueva and drafted Ben Cleveland. Yesterday the Ravens added Ja’Wuan James.

James isn’t likely to play in 2021 due to an Achilles injury he suffered in April, but for the price of $500K in guaranteed money and a $250K cap hit in 2021, DeCosta bought a placeholder for James’ services in 2022. This move coupled with the Gus Edwards extension saved the Ravens roughly $800K in cap space in 2021.

Not a bad day’s work for DeCosta.

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