Tag Archive | "Michael Crabtree"

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New Orleans elects not to match Snead’s offer sheet with Ravens

Posted on 20 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Monday 11:15 a.m.)

The Ravens have taken another step in addressing the wide receiver position by signing restricted free agent Willie Snead to a two-year offer sheet that won’t be matched by New Orleans.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $7 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and an additional $3.4 million in incentives. New Orleans had until Wednesday to match the offer and will not receive any compensation for the former undrafted free agent’s departure. According to the NFLPA, the Saints entered Monday with just over $6 million in salary cap space, a limited amount for a team that recently signed wide receiver Cameron Meredith.

Snead is coming off a forgettable season in which he caught only eight passes for 92 yards in 11 games. He was suspended for the first three games of 2017 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a penalty stemming from charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to maintain proper control of a vehicle last June. The Ball State product also dealt with a hamstring injury for a large portion of last season, another factor leading to him falling out of the mix.

However, the 25-year-old was a major contributor for Drew Brees and the Saints offense in the previous two seasons, catching a combined 141 passes for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Snead will serve as Baltimore’s slot receiver, a position general manager Ozzie Newsome had yet to fill after Jeremy Maclin was released and Michael Campanaro signed a one-year deal with Tennessee.

With the Ravens landing Snead, they have added a possession receiver and red-zone weapon in Michael Crabtree, an outside speed target in John Brown, and now a slot receiver to a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. The three offer diverse skills and have all enjoyed success in the past, but they combined for just 87 catches for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with Crabtree accounting for most of that production. In other words, Newsome has invested quite a bit in a trio of targets needing bounce-back seasons.

Signing Snead is expected to take the Ravens out of the running for former Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who hasn’t publicly expressed any interest in signing with Baltimore. The Ravens would be wise to still make drafting another receiver or two a priority this week since none of the aforementioned receivers can be viewed as long-term solutions at this point.

Snead worked out for the Ravens in late March and caught passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also signed with the team earlier this month.

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Flacco saying right things entering critical year for him and Ravens

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never come across as someone who peruses the mock drafts circulating this time of year.

But he’s aware of the smoke coming from even some of the more respected reporters and draft pundits suggesting general manager Ozzie Newsome may select a quarterback such as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State in the first round. The Ravens are either seriously considering taking a quarterback early or doing their best to make it look that way.

“It is what it is. It’s a business,” said Flacco, entering his 11th season in Baltimore. “Eventually, at some point, that’s going to have to happen. It’s not really for me to worry about. I come in here and you worry about what’s here and now and doing your job, which is for me right now getting guys out there working hard and making sure we’re moving towards our goal of getting to that championship.”

Whether the Ravens are serious or not, taking a quarterback in the first round would seem to contradict many circumstances facing the organization as owner Steve Bisciotti even said in early February that the Ravens had “bigger fish to fry” then finding Flacco’s successor. After Bisciotti acknowledged considering replacing head coach John Harbaugh at the end of last season, would the front office really give a coaching staff presumably fighting for its jobs a first-round pick who won’t see the field unless Flacco is injured or completely ineffective? The Ravens cited their late-season improvement as justification for retaining offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but they’re suddenly ready to move on from Flacco, who played well down the stretch despite little help at the pass-catching positions?

An organization having missed the playoffs four out of five seasons and facing an attendance crisis is going to use its first-round pick on a player unlikely to make any meaningful impact while Flacco carries a $24.75 million salary cap number this year and would still cost the Ravens another $16 million in dead money if he’s released next season? So much for maximizing the first couple years of having a young quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, and that’s assuming the drafted signal-caller pans out, which is far from the sure thing teams and their fans want it to be this time of year.

Finding a new franchise quarterback is a proposition never to be taken lightly.

Regardless of what happens next week, the pressure is mounting on Flacco, who is coming off a third straight subpar statistical campaign and is facing his most pivotal season since the final year of his rookie contract in 2012. The Ravens have done a poor job building an offense around him since Super Bowl XLVII, but that doesn’t absolve him from criticism as even his biggest supporters should be concerned with his declining yards per attempt average and questions about his durability moving forward as the 33-year-old missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury, an absence that severely stunted the offense. For what it’s worth, Flacco said he feels “really good” after placing an emphasis in his offseason training on keeping his back healthy.

Newsome has followed through on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room this offseason with the free-agent additions of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, but it’s still debatable whether that duo is markedly better than Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin and the Ravens still don’t have a pass-catching tight end on the roster after Benjamin Watson’s exit. To his credit, Flacco says he’s already spoken to Crabtree and Brown about working out away from the team’s Owings Mills facility before training camp. It’s an activity that’s been overrated by both media and fans on an annual basis, but there’s also no downside to it and such a commitment would likely garner some favor after both Newsome and Harbaugh mentioned the need for him to get on the same page with his new targets.

“I think sometimes those things are just as much, or more, about developing a relationship with those guys and developing that trust,” Flacco said. “For those guys to see that I really like who they are as football players, and for them to see that hopefully they like who I am as a football player. I think when you can get that relationship going, that’s going to help your football team out a ton.”

The Ravens have more work to do with their offense, further making the notion of taking a quarterback in the first round a puzzling one. After taking just four offensive players — left tackle Ronnie Stanley, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Maxx Williams and Crockett Gillmore — with their last 17 Day 1 and Day picks in the last five drafts, tight end, wide receiver, right tackle, and center remain among the roster’s biggest needs.

If Flacco has his way, the Ravens won’t wait until next week’s draft to add another pass catcher or two as he provided a ringing endorsement when asked about the possibility of adding former Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I got used to throwing to a guy like that when Anquan [Boldin] was here,” Flacco said. “He was a guy that even if he didn’t have the separation, it may have taken me a couple games, but you got used to throwing him the ball and having trust that he was going to get it. At the end of the day, in order to win big games, you have to have guys that can do that, because eventually, you’re not going to have guys running wide open – you’re going to have guys that can deal with traffic, winning in traffic, catching the ball in traffic. I think he’s another one of those guys.”

If Newsome finishes the job of improving the offensive cast, there will be no more excuses for the veteran quarterback. Flacco’s current deal runs through 2021, but new general manager Eric DeCosta — and perhaps even a new head coach — could elect to move on next year if 2018 offers more of the same from Flacco and an offense that’s consistently been below average in recent years.

His renaissance would likely save jobs and change the outlook of the organization as it enters a new era with Newsome stepping down as general manager.

Yes, time very well could be running out. How the Ravens proceed next week could say plenty about just how much remains, but Flacco still deserves the chance to hit pause with an improved 2018 campaign.

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Ravens open voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

The Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program for the 2018 season in Owings Mills on Monday.

The opening phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and is limited to strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. Coaches are not permitted to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

This phase of the program is voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are quietly expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Tuesday, but photos and videos released by the team showed many players in attendance on the first day, a list including new wide receiver Michael Crabtree, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III, tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Carl Davis, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser, and running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon among others.

In a series of moves that were mere formalities, Baltimore officially signed Collins, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste, tight end Vince Mayle, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and offensive linemen Maurquice Shakir and Matt Skura to their exclusive-rights tenders on Monday.

The next phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual instruction and drills as well as team practice as long as the offense and defense do not work against each other. No live contact is permitted.

The third and final phase of the program lasts four weeks and permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are also voluntary. No live contact is permitted, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills.

Teams may hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

Earlier this month, the NFL released the following dates for the Ravens’ OTA and mandatory minicamp schedule, but these have been subject to change in the past:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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dez

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Dez Bryant could help, but is he the best fit for the Ravens?

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s no secret that the Ravens still have much work to do to their offense with the NFL draft looming.

One of those positions remains wide receiver, but Baltimore has yet to add a pass-catching tight end following the free-agent departure of Benjamin Watson and has also lost two starters from last year’s offensive line. And while some help figures to come by way of a few draft choices next week, you never want to be in a position where you’re reaching with too many picks to fill out a depth chart, leaving a team at the mercy of how the draft board plays out and how other teams value the players you covet most.

That brings us to former Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was released Friday after eight seasons with the Cowboys that included three trips to the Pro Bowl and three 1,000-yard seasons. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver won’t turn 30 until November, making it reasonable to think he still has some good football left despite his statistical decline, recent health concerns, and his exit from a now receiver-needy team that moved ahead of the Ravens to draft him in the first round eight years ago.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by the memory of Bryant catching 273 passes for 3,935 yards and 41 touchdowns from 2012-2014 when he was one of the NFL’s top play-makers, but any interested team must have blinders to focus on the receiver he is today. That’s where the Ravens must determine if Bryant is the best fit for what they currently need.

With just over $10 million in salary cap space entering Monday and the ability to create more room with another contract restructure or two as well as a potential C.J. Mosley extension, general manager Ozzie Newsome can likely make it work. The Ravens can’t offer Bryant the opportunity to play against Dallas this season, but a contract in the neighborhood of Michael Crabtree’s three-year, $21 million deal inked last month would be doable if he wants to catch passes from Joe Flacco.

Assuming there’s mutual interest and a financial match, what would the Ravens be getting at this stage of his career?

Bryant never had elite wheels as he used his leaping ability and physicality to complement his speed in making big plays in his prime, but knee, foot, and ankle problems have slowed him considerably. Making that more problematic is that he’s never been a disciplined route-runner, making a transition to the slot more difficult to envision as his physical tools aren’t what they once were to win as consistently on the outside. While acknowledging the physical challenges that limited him to just 150 catches for 2,035 yards and 17 touchdown in 38 games over the last three years, Bryant also had to adjust to a new quarterback and a greater emphasis on running the ball in Dallas over the last two seasons, variables that can also limit a receiver’s production.

That brings us to how he’d fit in the Baltimore passing game with Crabtree and fellow free-agent acquisition John Brown already in the mix.

Neither Crabtree nor Brown have shown great productivity in the slot in the past, a reason why the Ravens expressed interest in the likes of Cam Meredith, Willie Snead, and Eric Decker in recent weeks. Crabtree’s prime never approached Bryant’s best years, but the two are similar receivers at this point, lacking good speed and relying on making contested catches in tight coverage and in the red zone to remain productive. Many might prefer Bryant to Crabtree, but the latter is already under contract and on the roster, making that argument rather inconsequential.

We often get caught up in the labels of a No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 receiver, but passing games need receivers with diverse skill sets. With the Ravens employing two tight ends more frequently than anyone in the NFL last season — a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes — the starting duo of Bryant and Crabtree sounds good in terms of name recognition, but it doesn’t leave much speed on the field and the Ravens still lack a tight end who can beat a defender down the seam, potentially leaving them even more vulnerable to tight underneath coverage. On top of that, the Ravens offensive line will be replacing two starters and wasn’t exactly elite in pass protection last year, leaving one to wonder how long Bryant and Crabtree would have to maneuver against coverage before Flacco must get rid of the ball in the pocket.

Of course, there are ways around this and you wouldn’t assume the Ravens offense to remain exactly the same as last year with different personnel at wide receiver. Perhaps even more critical, however, would be how Bryant meshes with another wideout who would be used in similar ways. It’s no secret that Bryant can be a handful from an emotional standpoint, but Crabtree has also been viewed as a mercurial player at previous stops.

Is Bryant prepared to come to a new team with an internal understanding that he isn’t the same star he was five years ago? No one expects the Ravens to morph back into a pass-happy attack, so would both veterans remain patient when the targets aren’t coming their way as frequently? What about those game situations when Baltimore simply needs to have more speed on the field?

Looking at the rest of the roster and the salary cap, would a Bryant signing make it more difficult to add a veteran offensive lineman or a tight end who might shake free between now and the start of the season? Would his addition prompt the Ravens to once again forgo using a meaningful draft pick on a wide receiver who could still contribute now and then develop into a long-term answer?

Is the juice worth the squeeze for a volatile receiver whose last 1,000-yard season came a year before Jeremy Maclin’s?

The answer very well might still be yes, but these are all factors that must be considered carefully. And they should far outweigh the attraction of simply adding another big name at a position of need.

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Ravens to host joint practices with Rams prior to preseason game

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

The Los Angeles Rams will make a cross-country flight to Baltimore for more than just the Aug. 9 preseason game with the Ravens.

The teams will conduct joint practice at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training facility prior to the exhibition contest at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the first time in three years that John Harbaugh’s team will practice with another squad as the Ravens hosted Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in 2014 and worked out with the Eagles in Philadelphia the following year.

The Rams will bring a local flavor to the joint practices with former Dunbar star and wide receiver Tavon Austin and Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley, who spent his childhood in Baltimore before moving to North Carolina for high school.

The entertaining matchup to watch will be new Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree and new Rams cornerback Aqib Talib renewing their old AFC West rivalry. The two brawled in each of the last two seasons with Talib ripping off Crabtree’s gold chain each time. Last year’s altercation resulted in ejections and one-game suspensions for each player.

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Wallace leaves Ravens to join Super Bowl champion Philadelphia

Posted on 22 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Less than a week after Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said the door was still open for Mike Wallace to return, the speedy wide receiver has joined the defending Super Bowl champions.

The 31-year-old has agreed to a one-year deal with Philadelphia worth a reported $2.5 million plus incentives, according to NFL Network. He becomes Baltimore’s second unrestricted free agent to depart this offseason after starting center Ryan Jensen signed a lucrative contract with Tampa Bay.

Wallace expressed hope at the end of last season that he’d remain with the Ravens, but he said his top priority would be winning, adding that his family has plenty of financial security at this later stage of his career.

“I want to win a Super Bowl. I got there my second year, and it’s been so far away ever since,” Wallace said on Jan. 1. “When you’re a young player, you’re like, ‘Oh, we will be right back.’ I’ve never seen it again, and I’ve been on some great teams that I thought had potential. It just did not work out. It’s that hard.”

Wallace arrived in Baltimore with his career at a crossroads coming off a 2015 campaign in Minnesota in which he’d recorded a career-low 473 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He thrived in his first season with the Ravens, however, catching 72 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns and looking more like the productive deep threat he was in Pittsburgh at the start of his career.

His production fell off last season as the entire passing game struggled mightily in the wake of Joe Flacco’s back injury, but Wallace rebounded after the Week 10 bye with 32 catches for 481 yards and two touchdowns over the final seven games. He finished 2017 with 52 catches for 748 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Ravens in receiving yards and finishing tied for first in touchdown catches.

Newsome vowed to change the look of the wide receiver room, and that has certainly happened with Wallace and Jeremy Maclin gone and free agents Michael Crabtree and John Brown signing with the Ravens last week. The speedy Brown will likely assume Wallace’s role in the offense and brings youth and upside, but he’s caught only 60 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns combined over the last two seasons while dealing with injuries. Brown caught 65 passes for 1,003 and seven touchdowns in 2015.

Wallace’s depature isn’t insurmountable by any means, but he effectively filled the void left behind by Torrey Smith the last two seasons as 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman has failed to develop. And the two-year, $11.5 million contract Wallace signed in 2016 proved to be good value for the Ravens.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of free agency

Posted on 21 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first week of NFL free agency now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I like the Michael Crabtree signing, but looking at past notable receivers’ first season with Baltimore is concerning. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Lee Evans, and Jeremy Maclin all saw their catch and yardage totals fall from the previous year. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace were the exceptions.

2. Benjamin Watson signing with Kansas City would put the Ravens in line to receive a 2019 third-round compensatory pick for Ryan Jensen. These comp choices shouldn’t drive the entire offseason, but that’s a pick too valuable to pass up to sign any unrestricted free agents remaining on the market.

3. Watson’s potential exit reiterates how big a need tight end remains. I’m not enthusiastic about anyone remaining on the market, but history suggests counting heavily on a rookie is a big mistake. This position may simply remain a question, but an early draft pick would bring enticing upside.

4. The reported visits of restricted free agents Willie Snead and Cameron Meredith reflect the desire to further address wide receiver, but structuring an offer sheet is tricky. You don’t want to exhaust too much effort when you may just be negotiating a deal for the original team in the end.

5. Declining the option on Austin Howard cleared $3 million in cap space, but was it wise to part ways with a reliable starting right tackle for only moderate savings? James Hurst hasn’t fared well at that spot in the past and Alex Lewis is a complete unknown there.

6. Jensen becoming the NFL’s highest-paid center is a reminder that incumbents can get markedly better over time and late bloomers do exist. There’s still at least a glimmer of hope for the likes of Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, and Bronson Kaufusi, even if the Ravens aren’t banking on it.

7. It appears Brandon Williams’ eye disorder is under control, but that’s still not something you want to hear about for anyone, let alone one of your best players who just received a lucrative contract 12 months ago.

8. I’m interested to watch Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo this summer, but I still see some fans putting too much stock into small glimpses of promise. We’ve seen this movie before, and the Ravens shouldn’t expect any of their young incumbent receivers beyond Chris Moore to make the 2018 roster.

9. Wink Martindale attending Derwin James’ pro day garnered attention, but a team needs to be sure any prospect — not just James — praised for athleticism and being able to line up at multiple positions will truly excel at at least one spot before using such a high pick.

10. Ryan Grant wasn’t going to get the same deal elsewhere after failing Baltimore’s physical, but a one-year, $5 million deal with Indianapolis is such a drop-off that you wonder if others had concerns about his ankle. I feel for him, and this still wasn’t a great look for the Ravens.

11. Eric DeCosta hasn’t been made available to local reporters since Steve Bisciotti announced the longtime assistant general manager would be taking over for Ozzie Newsome next year, but he shared his thoughts on the pending change with the team’s website HERE.

12. I’m amused by anyone believing the proposed language changes will fix the catch rule, but at least the league is trying to fix it. I can’t wait for those heated debates over what “the ability to perform a football move” really means.

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What’s next in Ravens’ quest for pass catchers?

Posted on 20 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome uttered the key term at the conclusion of last Friday’s press conference introducing free-agent acquisition John Brown.

Pass catchers.

The Ravens need more of them.

Newsome began to make good on his vow to change the look of the wide receiver room by adding two in the opening week of free agency with established veteran Michael Crabtree and the talented but oft-injured Brown, but there’s more work to be done. What that looks like by the time the Ravens kick off in September remains to be seen with needs remaining not only at wide receiver but tight end, and one could even argue that a situational running back would be helpful after the release of pass-catching specialist Danny Woodhead.

Of course, the goal isn’t just to fill open roster spots at those positions as quickly as you can with familiar names. The Ravens need diverse skills in a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season and has been broken since Gary Kubiak’s lone season as offensive coordinator in 2014. They need pass catchers at every level who can make plays and create yards after the catch.

It sounds simple, but the last several years have proven it’s anything but that for an organization that signed Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco to a record-setting contract in 2013 and has proceeded to neglect his side of the ball on a near-annual basis. One hopes the Ravens have finally learned their lesson after signing two wide receivers this past week and agreeing to terms with another before a failed physical squashed their four-year, $29 million deal with the unproven Ryan Grant, a development that understandably raised some scrutiny.

Crabtree isn’t a No. 1 receiver, but he offers a skill set that fits more closely to that of Anquan Boldin than any receiver Baltimore has had since jettisoning the latter five years ago. Not known for his speed even in his younger days, the 30-year-old uses toughness and route-running ability to make contested catches to move the chains and finish drives in the red zone, evident by his 25 touchdown catches over the last three seasons.

It’s fair to note the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Crabtree is coming off his worst statistical year since his in-season return from an Achilles injury in 2013, but motivation from being released by Oakland and an environment that’s been hospitable to veteran wideouts in the past set up a reasonable scenario for him to rebound from a 58-catch, 618-yard campaign that still included eight touchdowns. The ceiling may not be terribly high for a seasoned veteran with just two 1,000-yard campaigns in his career, but Crabtree should remain reliably productive if healthy.

Meanwhile, the speedy Brown is a $5 million wild card who appeared on his way to becoming a standout contributor after his first two NFL seasons in which he caught a combined 113 passes for 1,699 yards and 12 touchdowns in an Arizona offense that had much competition for targets. However, injuries have plagued him since his 1,003-yard campaign in 2015 as he was diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait and has been slowed by an array of ailments.

On paper, the 27-year-old fills the role of free-agent vertical threat Mike Wallace, but he’s shown the ability to be more diverse in running routes and shouldn’t be classified as a “one-trick pony” either. Unfortunately, a 2017 season in which he missed six games and registered only 299 receiving yards should make it obvious that he can’t be the only option in the speed department either. That’s why a reunion with Wallace on a modest deal could make sense as Newsome confirmed he’s remained in contact with the veteran’s representation.

Unless Crabtree moves inside more frequently than he has in the past, a slot receiver remains on the Ravens’ wish list with the just-released Allen Hurns representing an intriguing option on the market. At 6-foot-3, he’s not the prototypical slot guy, but he’s been productive in that role and his big frame would be another good red-zone target for Flacco. The problem is he’s also dealt with injuries, missing a total of 11 games since his breakout 2015 season.

It’s a critical balance for the Ravens as they need to do more at wide receiver and tight end, but they shouldn’t fixate too much on band-aid veterans with limited upside at the expense of finding long-term answers, which are more likely to come in next month’s draft. No, you can’t count on a rookie wide receiver or tight end to pop immediately, but that shouldn’t be an argument to sign an inferior veteran and forgo drafting players at those positions altogether. It’s easy to point to 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman as validation for not drafting a wide receiver, but remember he’s the only wide receiver selected by Baltimore in the first three rounds of the last six drafts.

Going off what’s currently available on the open market and barring an unforeseen trade, you’d like to see the Ravens come away with at least one wide receiver and one tight end over the first few rounds of the draft. If not, you can’t help but think they’ll be right back in the same position with the same issues next year.

When a team has this much work to do to fix its passing game, questions will inevitably remain entering the season.

Last week was a start, but a deeper collection of experience and youth with diverse skills is needed to breathe life into an offense that’s held Baltimore back for too long. Crabtree presents a good safety net on third down and in the red zone while Brown is a boom-or-bust option.

Let’s see if the Ravens finish the job this time around.

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Ravens use old habit in landing veteran receiver Crabtree

Posted on 16 March 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After one of the more bizarre starts to free agency in team history, the Ravens turned to an old habit at the wide receiver position by courting a veteran cast aside by his former team.

A day after voiding a four-year, $29 million agreement with the largely-unproven Ryan Grant because of a failed physical, Baltimore signed former Oakland wide receiver Michael Crabtree to a three-year contract on Friday. The deal is worth a total of $21 million and includes a $7 million signing bonus and $11 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network.

Upon being released by the Raiders on Thursday, the 30-year-old said his first call came from the Ravens before he caught the first flight to Baltimore and arrived for a visit at the team’s Owings Mills facility early Friday morning. The daylong negotiation reflected the Ravens’ urgency to strike a deal after what had transpired the previous day with Grant, a sequence of events that’s drawn skepticism and even accusations of wrongdoing from some critics.

A former San Francisco 49er who was targeted on the fourth-down incompletion in the end zone on the famous goal-line stand in Super Bowl XLVII, Crabtree becomes the latest in a long line of veteran wideouts to join the Ravens in the latter stages of their career.

Familiarity contributed to Crabtree’s decision as he previously played for Ravens assistant head coach Greg Roman and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, both former 49ers assistants. Of course, he also played for the brother of Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh as Jim Harbaugh served as 49ers head coach for Crabtree’s final four seasons in San Francisco.

“Jim and John, they’re like the same to me. When I talk to them, it’s like I’m talking to the same person,” said Crabtree as he laughed during his conference call with local reporters. “It’s almost as if they were twins or something. It’s weird, but it’s a new team for me, a new journey.”

After a disappointing season from Jeremy Maclin that resulted in his release earlier this week, general manager Ozzie Newsome hopes another 2009 first-round wide receiver can provide the physical presence on third down and in the red zone the Ravens have mostly lacked since trading Anquan Boldin in 2013. Crabtree is coming off a down season in which he caught only 58 passes for 618 yards — reflecting the struggles of the entire Oakland offense — but he still caught eight touchdowns, only three fewer than Baltimore’s entire collection of wide receivers in 2017.

In nine NFL seasons, the Texas Tech product has totaled 579 receptions for 6,870 yards and 51 touchdowns. Despite coming off his lowest catch and yardage totals since his injury-shortened 2013 campaign, Crabtree recorded the second 1,000-yard season of his career in 2016, helping the Raiders return to the playoffs for the first time in well over a decade.

Crabtree has registered 33 catches for 444 yards and six touchdowns in five career games against the Ravens, something that didn’t go unnoticed by Newsome in the pursuit of the veteran. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound wideout collected six receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown in Baltimore’s Week 5 win at Oakland last season.

“We know firsthand the attributes he brings to the game,” Newsome said in a statement released by the team. “He is a smart, tough, physical receiver who battles for the ball. We like his temperament and believe he is a good fit for our football team, on and off the field.”

Crabtree is now the second receiver to officially sign with the Ravens this week after a one-year, $5 million contract with former Arizona speedster John Brown was finalized on Thursday. It’s the continuation of Newsome’s stated desire to revamp the wide receiver position after the Ravens finished 29th in passing offense last season. Despite receiving much scrutiny over the timing of Grant’s voided deal coinciding with Crabtree’s release, Newsome said earlier Friday that the Ravens were interested in the veteran before receiving the results of Grant’s physical.

Baltimore wide receivers combined for 34 touchdown receptions over the last three seasons while Crabtree recorded 25 over that time with the Raiders. With Maclin gone and speedy veteran Mike Wallace currently an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens will be counting on Crabtree to provide veteran leadership as well as consistent production for a group lacking experience and accomplishments.

They also envision a motivated veteran eager to prove he has plenty of good football left despite being jettisoned by the Raiders.

“I felt like I was the leader in the room at [age] 21. But it was more off example, leading by example,” Crabtree said. “The older I’ve gotten, it seems like it’s more verbal. It’s more speaking, showing these guys and telling these guys instead of just showing them by example.

“It’s a little different when you get older. I’m comfortable with it. I feel like I’m in my prime right now. I’m ready to go. I feel young; I feel like I’m still 25.”

Crabtree’s mercurial personality has sometimes led to a reputation for having attitude problems and he was even ejected for fighting with former Denver cornerback Aqib Talib in a game last season, but the Ravens could stand to benefit from more attitude on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the free-agent departure of starting center Ryan Jensen becoming official Friday night. Despite being a Dallas native, Crabtree said he grew up a Ravens fan because of their “hard-nosed” defense, which could partly explain his fiery personality that occasionally crosses the line.

Newsome says he’s not finished addressing the wide receiver position despite two free-agent additions in the first week of free agency, also noting Friday that the door was still open for Wallace and fellow free agent Michael Campanaro to potentially return. Next month’s draft may lack a clear-cut franchise-changing receiver, but the depth of talent projected to go in the second and third rounds should be appealing for an organization that struck out on 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and has otherwise waited until the later rounds to draft receivers who amounted to little more than fliers.

The Ravens also continue to search for help at tight end with their reported interest in former Detroit first-round pick Eric Ebron, who was released earlier this week.

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Ravens’ deal with wide receiver Grant off due to failed physical

Posted on 16 March 2018 by Luke Jones

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.

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