The opening week of free agency took a strange turn for the Ravens on Thursday as a four-year, $29 million agreement with wide receiver Ryan Grant fell apart because of a failed physical.
The Ravens issued a release Wednesday announcing its pending deals with Grant and fellow free-agent wide receiver John Brown as the pair traveled to Baltimore to take their physicals and likely be introduced to the local media on Thursday. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Grant did not pass due to concerns over an ankle injury sustained at the end of last season as a member of the Washington Redskins. Despite being diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait in 2016 and dealing with a number of ailments over the last couple seasons, Brown, 27, passed his physical and has officially signed his one-year, $5 million contract.
Grant hasn’t missed a game in his four-year career, but he was listed on the team’s official injury report for each of the final three games of the 2017 season with an ankle issue. According to the team’s official website, the 27-year-old was a limited participant in practices and listed as questionable ahead of the Week 15 game against Arizona, but he was a full participant in practices over the final two weeks and wasn’t even listed on the Week 16 and Week 17 final game status reports.
Thursday’s news was met with some scrutiny after the Ravens were already criticized by many for awarding the second-richest wide receiver contract in team history to the 6-foot, 193-pound wideout with just 84 career receptions and not a single 100-yard game to his name. It didn’t help that the news coincided with the ESPN report of the just-released wide receiver Michael Crabtree visiting Baltimore on Friday, but the Ravens had also been interested in wide receiver Jordy Nelson before Grant’s physical even took place, making it clear general manager Ozzie Newsome wasn’t yet satisfied in his efforts to revamp the wide receiver position after coming to terms with both Grant and Brown.
Newsome is scheduled to hold a press conference in Owings Mills on Friday morning.
This isn’t the first time the Ravens have been in this kind of a position in their history as they agreed to terms with free-agent safety Brock Marion in 1997 before concerns about his shoulder voided the agreement, prompting him to re-sign with Dallas. Marion would play eight more seasons and even make it to three Pro Bowls as a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Regardless of the many negative reactions to the original agreement that included $14.5 million guaranteed or how serious the Ravens’ concerns were about Grant’s ankle, Thursday’s news wasn’t the best look for an organization that’s failed to build an adequate offense around quarterback Joe Flacco while missing the playoffs in four of the last five years. Newsome, assistant general manager and heir apparent Eric DeCosta, and the rest of the front office have a good reputation around the league and should receive the benefit of the doubt with agents. However, negative perceptions about a team’s physical process — as fair and accurate as it might be — can conceivably hinder dealings with agents and future free agents who could be in fear of failing and potentially harming their value on the open market.
It’s a more extreme example, of course, but look at the Orioles, who have been harshly criticized for their rigid physicals over the years that have nixed a handful of agreements before those players have ended up enduring those identified health issues playing elsewhere. No matter how pure the intentions, the burden of being right can still have undesired consequences.
In this case, the Ravens hope to quickly regroup and strike a deal with Crabtree, who is clearly a more accomplished wide receiver than Grant despite coming off a down season in which he caught just 58 passes for 618 yards with Oakland. The 30-year-old still caught eight touchdowns last year and made a career-high 89 catches and recorded the second 1,000-yard season of his career in 2016.
Crabtree would be the replacement for Jeremy Maclin, another 2009 first-round pick who was released earlier this week after his lone disappointing season in Baltimore.