Tag Archive | "Dennis Pitta"

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Hurting at tight end, Ravens add former New York Giant Larry Donnell

Posted on 30 July 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens arguably had more inventory at tight end than any other position on the roster, but that’s changed substantially in less than two months.

A right knee injury to Crockett Gillmore prompted general manager Ozzie Newsome to sign former New York Giants tight end Larry Donnell on Sunday. It remains unclear just how long Gillmore will be sidelined after he left the field in the final minutes of Friday’s practice and didn’t participate on Saturday. The Ravens lost Dennis Pitta to a career-ending hip injury on June 2 and Darren Waller to a yearlong suspension announced on June 30.

Donnell, a former rookie free agent from Grambling, had a four-year run with the New York Giants in which he caught 110 passes for 969 yards and nine touchdowns in 54 games. His 2014 campaign was his best as the 6-foot-6, 265-pound target caught 63 passes for 623 yards and six touchdowns.

His 2016 season in New York was a quiet one as Donnell caught 15 passes for 92 yards and one touchdown in 14 games, six of them starts.

He joins a group of healthy tight ends that includes Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Ryan Malleck, and wide receiver hybrid Vince Mayle. The 36-year-old Watson is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last August while Williams, a 2015 second-round pick, is returning from a rare knee cartilage surgery that had apparently never been performed on an NFL player.

To make room for Donnell on the 90-man preseason roster, the Ravens waived undrafted rookie wide receiver Tim Patrick.

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2017 Ravens training camp preview: Tight ends

Posted on 25 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2017 Ravens every day as they aim to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Linebackers

TIGHT ENDS

Projected depth chart:
TE – Crockett Gillmore, Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle, Ryan Malleck
SUSPENDED – Darren Waller

Why to be impressed: Even with Dennis Pitta suffering a career-ending hip injury in the spring and Waller being suspended for the entire 2017 season, the Ravens have three tight ends who have been envisioned as starters as some point over the last couple years. Gillmore and Boyle are both strong blockers, which bodes well for Baltimore’s desire to improve the running game.

Why to be concerned: Gillmore, Watson, and Williams all have substantial injury concerns while Boyle is a failed drug test away from potentially being suspended for two years, leaving the Ravens with plenty of baggage at the position. Pitta was the most productive tight end on the roster in 2016 while Waller possessed the most athletic upside, making it difficult to know what to expect from the rest of this group. 

2017 outlook: You could put the top four names in a hat and pick one out as the leading receiver for the season and I wouldn’t be surprised, but an unforeseen name being in the mix wouldn’t be a shock, either, considering the number of injury concerns. The biggest key to the future at this position might be the health of Williams, a 2015 second-round pick who underwent a mysterious knee procedure last fall.

Prediction: Boyle will play the most snaps, Gillmore will lead the group in receptions, and Watson will record the most touchdown receptions of any Ravens tight end.

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Ravens running back Dixon could miss season with meniscus injury

Posted on 25 July 2017 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 7:25 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t hold their first full-squad practice until Thursday, but they’re already dealing with another major injury.

According to NFL Network, second-year running back Kenneth Dixon could miss the entire 2017 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, which usually requires four to five months for recovery. The Ravens had hoped that Dixon’s meniscus would only need to be trimmed, which would have meant a much shorter recovery time.

Dixon was already set to serve a four-game suspension to begin the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy — he would still serve that ban without pay if on injured reserve — but his long-term absence leaves the Ravens thin at the running back position. According to The Sun, Baltimore is trying to sign veteran Bobby Rainey — who began his NFL career with the Ravens in 2012 — to the 90-man roster.

Former Towson star Terrance West is expected to be the starter after rushing for 774 yards and five touchdowns in his first full season with the Ravens in 2016. Veteran newcomer Danny Woodhead will serve as the third-down back and primary receiver out of the backfield, but Dixon represented the most upside of any running back on the roster, making this a substantial loss.

Former fourth-round pick Buck Allen will also figure to have more opportunities after a disappointing 2016 season. The Ravens have already moved 2014 fourth-rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro to fullback, but he could also factor into the run-game equation if healthy.

Dixon missed the first four games of the 2016 season after suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee in the preseason, but he returned to average 4.3 yards per carry as a rookie and ranked 11th in yards after contact per carry among 53 running backs with at least 80 carries, according to Pro Football Focus.

He is the third substantial loss the Ravens have sustained on the offensive side of the ball since spring as tight end Dennis Pitta was released after suffering the third major hip injury of his career and third-year tight end Darren Waller was suspended for the entire season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Second-year cornerback Tavon Young sustained a torn ACL on June 1 and is also expected to miss the entire season.

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Pitta “not delusional” about future after latest devastating hip injury

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dennis Pitta hasn’t lost his dry sense of humor less than two weeks after suffering his third devastating right hip injury to end his seven-year run with the Ravens.

Using crutches to stand before the media after Baltimore concluded its three-day minicamp, the 31-year-old immediately sparked laughter in what could have been a sobering “farewell” press conference.

“They asked me to do podium and I said, ‘I don’t even work here. Why do I have to come up?'” said Pitta, referencing the Ravens releasing him on an injury waiver last week. “But here I am.”

It was a surreal scene after he had quipped to media only three weeks ago how nice it was to no longer be fielding so many questions about his hip.

Pitta made no retirement announcement on Thursday, but he’s “not delusional” after dislocating and fracturing his hip for the third time in the last four years. The 2010 fourth-round pick spoke about his career in the past tense, but he wants to focus on making a full recovery before facing the finality of his playing days being all but officially over.

For Pitta, being on his feet and back at the Ravens’ training facility was gratifying enough after his horrific injury on June 2 and the surgery that followed. Being driven around by Steve Bisciotti in the owner’s golf cart during Wednesday’s practice, he was greeted by head coach John Harbaugh and many teammates happy to see him.

Unfortunately, this is familiar territory for the man who caught three touchdowns in the 2012 postseason run that culminated with a win in Super Bowl XLVII.

“More of a nightmare, I would say, other than déjà vu,” said Pitta, who had told his wife, Mataya, that he was feeling better than ever just days before re-injuring his hip. “It is what it is. It’s something I’ve gone through before. It’s weird being out here and not being part of things. Just over a week ago, I was out here practicing and feeling really good, so things change in an instant. But I’m positive and staying in a good mind frame.”

We’ll always wonder where Pitta could have ranked on the franchise’s all-time receiving list as he appeared to be emerging as one of the top tight ends in the league when he sustained his first hip injury on July 27, 2013. He missed nearly three full seasons due to the first two injuries and played in a total of just 19 games after signing a five-year, $32 million contract in 2014 that included $16 million guaranteed.

His story is a reminder of how fragile an NFL career can be.

“It’s heartbreaking. I talked to him. He understands it. I understand it,” said veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs, who years ago nicknamed Pitta “American Express” for his reliability in being everywhere you want him to be. “It’s part of the game. Some of these guys look and say, ‘Dang, Sizz, 15 years?’ You know some people don’t have that long. That’s definitely something to be fortunate about. But I talked to him, and he’s in good spirits about it. It’s just one of those things. We play a very brutal sport.”

Pitta said his improbable return to the field in 2016 means even more to him now as he was the only Ravens tight end to appear in all 16 games and led all NFL tight ends with a career-high 86 receptions. He isn’t second-guessing his decision to come back last year despite previously contemplating retirement because of the slow rehab process that came with the 2014 injury.

Expressing gratitude for the support from both his family and the organization over these last few challenging years, Pitta sounded like a man at peace with his fate.

Even if he wasn’t quite ready to to use the “retirement” word.

“I think it’ll be a little bit more cut and dried this time,” Pitta said. “I certainly don’t regret coming back and playing last season. I felt great all year. I think I would have regretted it more being at home and feeling as good as I did and not playing. It was a tremendous year for me personally, just being able to overcome what I did and prove a lot to myself, and I don’t regret it one bit.

“I’m happy I played and fortunate that I was able to get another year in.”

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Ravens land veteran wide receiver Maclin with two-year deal

Posted on 12 June 2017 by Luke Jones

It took longer than most envisioned at the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have finally landed a coveted veteran wide receiver.

Just a few days after a productive visit in Owings Mills, Jeremy Maclin agreed to a two-year deal and will fly to Baltimore to sign his contract on Tuesday morning, just in time for the start of a three-day mandatory minicamp. Released by Kansas City as a salary-cap casualty on June 2, the 29-year-old also visited Buffalo last week and told the Ravens he wanted more time to make a decision before leaving the team’s training facility without a deal on Friday afternoon.

Maclin was recruited on social media by Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson with the latter hosting the free agent for an NBA Finals viewing party with several other Ravens players last Thursday.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 in which he set career lows in catches (44), receiving yards (536), and touchdown receptions (two) while battling a groin ailment, but he enjoyed the best two seasons of his career just before that. His career-best 1,318 receiving yards with Philadelphia in 2014 prompted the Chiefs to sign him to a lucrative five-year, $55 million deal, and Maclin responded by collecting a career-high 87 catches with 1,088 receiving yards in 2015.

A first-round pick of the Eagles in 2009, Maclin has recorded at least 60 catches and 800 receiving yards in five of his seven active NFL seasons. He missed the entire 2013 campaign with a torn ACL suffered early in training camp.

Players no longer on the roster accounted for 53 percent of the Ravens’ receptions and 49.7 percent of their receiving yards a year ago as the offense struggled to produce consistently. This reality made it clear that general manager Ozzie Newsome needed to do more than simply hope that 2015 first-round wide receiver Breshad Perriman and a deep inventory of tight ends would emerge to replace the likes of Steve Smith, Dennis Pitta, and Kamar Aiken. Baltimore did not select a wide receiver in the draft for the first time since 2009, creating even more angst within the fan base.

Pitta’s unfortunate hip re-injury and subsequent release earlier this month made it even more critical for the Ravens to add an experienced threat for quarterback Joe Flacco.

The Ravens’ projected top receiving trio of Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Perriman should provide more than enough speed with Maclin also offering the route-running ability and toughness to play in the slot and work the intermediate portion of the field. Baltimore has also shown interest in soon-to-be-released New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker — an ESPN report said his addition was still a possibility despite Maclin’s signing — but it would be difficult to fit both veterans under an already-tight salary cap.

Maclin has registered 474 receptions, 6,395 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns in his NFL career.

The next question will be whether Newsome adds a veteran offensive lineman after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency and starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded this offseason. The Ravens have rotated the trio of Ryan Jensen, John Urschel, and Matt Skura at the starting center spot while fourth-year veteran James Hurst has worked as the first-team right tackle during spring workouts.

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With Pitta chapter closed, Ravens must find out about tight end inventory

Posted on 09 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have prepared for this reality for a few years now.

Long before Dennis Pitta surprised us all by returning to the football field to lead all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions in 2016, general manager Ozzie Newsome had taken significant steps to replace him. And with the veteran sadly suffering a third dislocation of his right hip in a four-year period last week — prompting his release on Wednesday — the time is now for the Ravens to find out about their extensive inventory of tight ends.

To call it depth would be presumptuous since all five carry enough baggage to make it difficult to handicap a favorite for the top of the depth chart going into the start of training camp next month.

Benjamin Watson has caught four times as many passes in his career as Baltimore’s four other tight ends combined, but the 36-year-old is coming off a torn Achilles tendon and won’t be fully cleared to return to action until later this summer. His leadership and experience will be valued in meeting rooms and on the practice field in training camp, but whether he has anything left in the tank is a critical question for a veteran player scheduled to make a $3 million base salary for 2017.

Crockett Gillmore has been the most productive of the young tight ends on the roster, but the 2014 third-round pick has missed 13 of the Ravens’ last 20 games since emerging as the starter in 2015 with 33 receptions for 412 yards and four touchdowns over 10 contests. His rare combination of blocking ability and productive hands is enticing, but Gillmore must prove he can stay on the field. Even during Thursday’s voluntary workout in Owings Mills, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound specimen left the field with what appeared to be some type of injury.

The Ravens envisioned Maxx Williams having the most upside of any of their current tight ends when they traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him, but the Minnesota product did not register a catch in four games last season before undergoing a mysterious knee surgery that no other NFL player has had, according to head coach John Harbaugh. A rookie campaign of 32 receptions and a touchdown in 14 games was respectable given the typical learning curve for tight ends entering the league, but how could anyone possibly know what to expect from the 23-year-old Williams before he returns to the practice field later this summer?

Nick Boyle might be the safest bet to secure no worse than a complementary role with his blocking skills and underrated hands, but the 2015 fifth-round selection from Delaware has twice been suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and is a strike away from a two-year ban. Despite a steady 24 receptions for 197 yards over his 17 career games as a backup, Boyle’s past doesn’t exactly breed trust to include him in any long-term plans.

And that brings us to Darren Waller, a 2015 sixth-round pick who was converted from wide receiver to tight end last year and easily has the most athleticism and speed in the group. After serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to begin 2016, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Waller caught 10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He flashed potential from time to time, but that’s not enough production over 12 games for him to shed the “experiment” label at his new position.

The emergence of at least one or two of the aforementioned names is even more critical this season with the Ravens still lacking a trustworthy short-to-intermediate receiver for quarterback Joe Flacco in the passing game. Baltimore offenses have historically been at their best with a go-to tight end such as Shannon Sharpe, Todd Heap, or Pitta there to move the chains on third down and to shine in the red zone.

As unfortunate as the latest news was about Pitta, the Ravens believe they are prepared for it with a process that began more than two years ago. Pitta’s unexpected return in 2016 offered a one-year safety net with the rest of the group dealing with injuries or suspensions, but his release earlier this week signals the official end of an era.

Now the Ravens will learn whether some of that inventory turns into real depth for a roster with playoff aspirations but with significant questions on the offensive side of the ball.

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Ravens release Pitta with injury waiver, ending seven-year run

Posted on 07 June 2017 by Luke Jones

The Dennis Pitta era has officially come to a sad end with the Ravens releasing the veteran tight end with an injury waiver on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old dislocated his right hip for the third time in a four-year period during last Friday’s voluntary organized team activity, leaving his career in grave jeopardy after he had worked for nearly two full years to return to action in 2016. Pitta’s release was not a shock as he had signed an injury waiver, which absolved the Ravens of any financial responsibility in the event of a re-injury to his hip.

His release saves the organization $2.5 million in salary cap space minus the cap figure of the player replacing him in the “rule of 51” rankings. The Ravens could have elected to wait for Pitta to officially announce his retirement, but it’s apparent that they wanted to create the additional cap space with their reported interest in recently-available veteran wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Eric Decker.

A fourth-round selection out of Brigham Young in the 2010 draft, Pitta finishes his time in Baltimore ranked fifth on the Ravens’ career receptions list (224), 12th in receiving yards (2,098), and 11th in touchdown receptions (13). Those numbers would have been even higher on the all-time franchise list had he not missed nearly three full seasons because of injuries. Pitta’s best work came in 2012 when he caught seven touchdowns during the regular season and added three more in the Ravens’ postseason run that culminated with a victory in Super Bowl XLVII.

Despite most expecting his career to be over after his second hip injury in 2014, Pitta surprisingly returned to action last year to lead all NFL tight ends with 86 catches and caught his first two touchdowns since the 2013 season.

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Pain of latest Pitta injury goes beyond Ravens, football

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Luke Jones

There will be plenty of time to discuss what tight end Dennis Pitta’s latest re-injury of his right hip will mean for the Ravens and an offense that’s already sustained much loss with few additions this offseason.

We know the NFL is a business and injuries occur all the time. In fact, we’re reminded so frequently of that reality that we forget these are human beings with families and everyday problems that don’t vanish simply because they are able to play football at an all-world level and are compensated so well for it.

Dennis Pitta is a good man with a wonderful family. It’s sad to see them go through such an agonizing process again.

Yes, he knew the risk he was taking playing again after he injured his hip for the second time almost three years ago in Cleveland and so many said he should have retired then. He acknowledged over the last couple years that his wife and mother weren’t crazy about his latest comeback, but Pitta wanted to play again and cited a feeling of having let the Ravens down by appearing in only three games over the first two seasons of a five-year contract signed in 2014 that guaranteed him $16 million. That’s one reason why he accepted pay cuts in each of the last two seasons — yes, the Ravens had plenty of leverage, too — and signed injury waivers that would protect the organization from a financial standpoint.

He wasn’t doing all of this for free, of course, but few would have faulted Pitta for retiring after the first catastrophic hip injury occurred on July 27, 2013. And virtually no one expected him to play again when he was carted off the field in Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2014, but he eventually defied the odds after missing nearly two full seasons of action.

Before focusing on his replacements and salary-cap ramifications, we should admire a man who didn’t want his final play in the NFL to be one in which he collapsed to the ground and had to be carted off the field. He was able to achieve that goal last season after an incredible amount of work most of us never saw.

It had been such a feel-good comeback story in 2016 as Pitta was the only Ravens tight end to play in all 16 games, leading all NFL players at his position with 86 receptions and catching his first touchdowns in three years. Pitta said only last week how refreshing it was to not be answering questions about his hip anymore and how he appreciated just being able to go through a normal offseason for the first time in a few years.

And now this.

Of course, life will go on for the Ravens as they’ll enter their final week of organized team activities next week and we’ll focus on the deep inventory of tight ends remaining on the 2017 roster. But the 31-year-old has the rest of his life ahead of him and now faces another long recovery and rehabilitation. Pitta has said in the past that he would likely need a hip replacement after his career ended, so we don’t know for sure what this latest injury means in that context.

In our efforts to immediately remind ourselves that it’s a business before talking about salary-cap ramifications and the next man up, let’s recognize the man’s principles and efforts to do everything he could to contribute to the Ravens over the last several years despite his body not cooperating.

Pitta still deserves to have the official final say about his future, but we can only wish him and his family the best with whatever comes next and he’ll certainly be missed in the Baltimore locker room.

We should only hope to see a man in his early 30s be able to run around with his kids and play golf and be healthy in his everyday life moving forward. Pitta has provided more than enough memories on the football field for the Ravens and their fans.

The show will go on, but it’s sad to see such an uplifting comeback take another heartbreaking twist.

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Pitta reportedly restructures deal to remain with Ravens

Posted on 10 March 2017 by Luke Jones

After making his unlikely return to the field in 2016, Dennis Pitta is staying with the Ravens.

The veteran tight end has agreed to restructure his contract to lower his $7.7 million salary-cap figure for 2017, according to NFL Network. Pitta accepted a pay cut from $5 million to $1 million in base salary last year as he attempted his unlikely comeback from two devastating hip injuries and went on to earn $3 million back in incentives. He was scheduled to make $5.5 million in base salary this season in a contract scheduled to run through next year.

It remains unclear how the revised deal will look, but general manager Ozzie Newsome was aiming to add more cap space to continue revamping his roster after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four years. Asked about Pitta’s cap figure and future with the team earlier in the day on Friday, Newsome would only say that he was “still a Raven.”

Playing this past season for the first time since 2014, Pitta led all NFL tight ends with 86 receptions and was the only Baltimore tight end to play in all 16 games. However, his 8.5 yards per catch average ranked 55th of 56 players with at least 60 catches, leading many to argue that quarterback Joe Flacco was too dependent on underneath passes to his longtime teammate and close friend. Pitta managed only two touchdown receptions and often struggled to gain yards after the catch.

Pitta’s return leaves the Ravens with a very crowded tight end picture that includes fellow veteran Benjamin Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Darren Waller, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams.

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Ravens shouldn’t fret about making substantial changes

Posted on 22 February 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency just two weeks away, we all know which Ravens players stand out as potential salary-cap casualties by now.

A few are easy calls while others have accomplished plenty in their NFL careers and are fan favorites. Most are over the age of 30, which is when you need to ask whether you’re paying too much for what a player used to be rather than what he is today.

After missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years and lacking difference-making talent atop the roster, what is the realistic goal for 2017? Is the Ravens brass aiming to improve just enough to sneak into the playoffs to avoid being fired — a perceived ultimatum that exists at least in the minds of many outsiders — or is the organization focused on building its next championship team? Of course, incremental improvement and eyeing the long term aren’t mutually exclusive, but these two ideas may offer different viewpoints of the following veterans with questionable cap figures for 2017.

2017 cap figure Pre-June 1 cut savings 2017 dead money
CB Kyle Arrington $2.767M $2.1M $667K
LB Elvis Dumervil $8.375M $6M $2.375M
S Kendrick Lewis $2.267M $1.8M $467K
TE Dennis Pitta $7.7M $3.3M $4.4M
WR Mike Wallace $8M $5.75M $2.25M
TE Benjamin Watson $4M $3M $1M
S Lardarius Webb $7.5M $5.5M $2M
CB Shareece Wright $5.33M $2.667M $2.667M
C Jeremy Zuttah $4.607M $2.393M $2.214M

How many of these potential cap casualties can you envision being as good as or better than they were in 2016? Which of these talents are instrumental to the next championship-caliber team?

With the retirement of Steve Smith and the lack of other established talent at wide receiver on the current roster, cutting Wallace would be a tough pill to swallow without knowing what’s to come in free agency and the draft and also acknowledging the organization’s poor track record at the position. The rest of the players on the list have different degrees of remaining value, but it’d be difficult to say any would be terribly difficult to replace when factoring in either the cost to retain them or the depth at their positions — or even both.

It’s no secret how dependent the Ravens have been on older players the last couple seasons, which is fine when on the cusp of a championship like they were five years ago. But continuing down the same road with a group that’s proven to not be good enough seems counterintuitive when you’re in need of game-changing talent and more cap space. Some of the best teams in franchise history had obvious flaws and positions of weakness, but they had enough playmakers capable of masking them.

Cleaning house doesn’t mean general manager Ozzie Newsome should be hellbent on spending lucrative money on free agents just for the sake of doing it. But if cutting Webb and Pitta means the Ravens can have a healthier cap to go sign an established talent like Pierre Garcon, I’ll take my chances leaning on more youth at those other positions. The same even goes for the tipping point in trying to re-sign a free agent such as Brandon Williams, who is a very good player but plays a position at which the Ravens have consistently found talent over the years.

This roster has many needs and very few free agents or potential cap cuts who are indispensable. The known is more comfortable than the unknown, but the Ravens can’t afford to be in love with their own ingredients when the recipe just hasn’t added up in recent years.

To be clear, adding dynamic playmakers to the roster is easier said than done, no matter how much pundits have hammered the Ravens about it over the last few years. It often involves luck as much as anything else, evident by the fact that Baltimore had two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis and Ed Reed — fall late into the first round in the franchise’s first seven drafts. The Ravens are certainly aiming to find a few playmakers in this April’s draft, but they will still hope that a Kenneth Dixon takes a giant leap like Ray Rice did in his second year or that a Breshad Perriman finally takes off in his third season.

Still, the idea shouldn’t be to spend to the cap on an OK collection of veterans in the meantime. Focusing on more of a youth movement might result in some early 2017 pains, but it can yield more meaningful future gains than retaining veterans with steep price tags and rapidly-approaching expiration dates.

You either have something special or you need to be building something special.

The Ravens have been stuck in between for too long now.

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