Tag Archive | "NFL"


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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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Woodhead announces retirement days after being released by Ravens

Posted on 17 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Just days after being released by the Ravens, veteran running back Danny Woodhead is calling it a career.

Despite reports this week of other teams being interested in his services, the 33-year-old announced he was retiring from the NFL on his Instagram account. In nine seasons spent with the New York Jets, New England, San Diego, and Baltimore, the 5-foot-8, 204-pound Woodhead rushed for 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns and caught 300 passes for 2,698 yards and 17 touchdown receptions.

The Ravens signed Woodhead to a three-year, $8.8 million deal last March to serve as the pass-catching threat out of the backfield that he’d been at previous stops, but a serious hamstring injury sustained on the opening drive of the season cost him eight games and he finished with just 33 receptions for 200 yards and no touchdowns. It was an unfortunate pattern in the latter stages of his career as the former rookie free agent from Chadron State played in just 29 games over the last four seasons.

10 years! Wow, God had crazy plans for a small little kid from North Platte, NE! It’s been a wild ride and feel so blessed He allowed me to do what I loved for so long. But now it’s time to say goodbye to the game I love. First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Without Him my career wouldn’t have been possible. He blessed me with the gifts and He paved the way. All I had to do was follow His plans for my life, and His plans were crazy awesome! Next, I want to thank my wife who has been by my side since freshman year of high school. She has been a rock through all the ups and downs. Sis, Willy, Mae Mae, and Hopie your daddy is going to be home a ton more and I can’t wait! Thanks to my Dad and Mom for always supporting me and showing me that God is first, then everything else will fall into place. Ben, Joel, and Anna thanks for preparing me for the NFL in our backyard games growing up. The dreaded in-laws Steve and Suzie for always being there for me. Chris Gittings (agent) you’re the best and thankful your my brother/uncle! Thank you Jets, Patriots, Chargers, and Ravens! Thanks to all my head coaches (Bob Zohner, Brad Smith, Bill O’Boyle, Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick, Mike McCoy, and John Harbaugh) who believed in me! To my rbs coaches (coach skiles, coach reiners, Jimmy Raye, A Lynn, Ivan, Ollie, Ridge, and Thomas) thanks for putting up with me. Thanks to all my teammates from high school till now. Without you guys I never would’ve become who I was as a player. To all my olinemen, you guys deserve the credit for anything that I received credit for. I thank you for helping make my career. To all the trainers, team docs, strength coaches, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, body gurus thanks for making sure I was on the field. To all the people who made my life easier at the facility (ops, pr, equipment staff, cafe workers, custodians) thanks and your work doesn’t go unnoticed. And how could i forget all my fans?! You’re the best and have always felt the love and support! I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few but know that I’m thankful for everything everyone has done on my journey.

A post shared by Danny Woodhead (@teamwoody39) on

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Jensen leaves Ravens to become NFL’s highest-paid center

Posted on 17 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Who could have imagined Ryan Jensen’s first full season as a Ravens starter would be so profitable?

The 2013 sixth-round pick from Division II Colorado State-Pueblo has become the highest-paid center in the NFL after agreeing to a four-year, $42 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that includes $22 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when some wondered why the Ravens even tendered Jensen as a restricted free agent since he’d been a healthy scratch for the final nine games of the 2016 season and had seemingly fallen out of favor.

Winning the starting center job in training camp last summer, Jensen would start all 16 games and ranked ninth among qualified players at the position in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He was the ideal fit at center in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes, providing a strong anchor inside with both guards frequently pulling to open lanes in the running game. And he did it after projected starting left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder injury in training camp and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2.

Friday’s lucrative contract was the culmination of an unlikely journey for Jensen, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie after breaking his foot in training camp. He was then cut at the end of the 2014 preseason and spent most of that regular season on the practice squad, only playing a few snaps on special teams at the end of that season. Jensen would finally became a contributor as a reserve offensive lineman over the next two seasons and made a total of nine starts between the two guard positions, but he still hadn’t established himself as a starting-caliber player.

The 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman entered the spring of 2017 in a competition with the now-retired John Urschel for the starting center job after incumbent Jeremy Zuttah had been released. Putting on some bulk and responding well to new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, Jensen would emerge as a leader on an offensive line that dealt with much adversity because of injuries.

Though no one can fault the Ravens for letting Jensen go at such an extravagant rate after just one full year as a starter, this marks the third straight offseason in which they’ve watched an above-average offensive lineman leave for a lucrative contract elsewhere after Kelchi Osemele did it in 2016 and Rick Wagner departed last year. Jensen’s exit also opens an all-too-familiar hole at center, a position at which the Ravens have struggled since the post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement of Matt Birk. It remains unknown what the organization’s plans are at the position, but Matt Skura would seem to be the top in-house candidate unless the Ravens were to do more radical line shuffling.

The offense will also miss Jensen’s attitude as he wasn’t afraid to play through the whistle — and sometimes after it — and provided toughness for a unit with a number of quieter personalities. The 26-year-old garnered praise from Ravens fans in Week 8 after he went after Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso for his penalized blow to the head of concussed quarterback Joe Flacco. Once describing himself as an “annoying little mosquito” on the field, Jensen would also ruffle the feathers of his defensive teammates from time to time in practice.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen is the second 2017 starter on the Baltimore offensive line to depart after right tackle Austin Howard was let go before the start of free agency.

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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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Ravens restructure Brandon Williams’ deal to create cap space

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Owner Steve Bisciotti mentioned last month the possibility of restructuring defensive tackle Brandon Williams’s contract to create salary cap space, and the Ravens have followed through on that.

According to ESPN’s Field Yates, Baltimore has converted $7.5 million of Williams’ $8.5 million base salary for the 2018 season into a bonus, an accounting maneuver that creates $5.625 million in cap room. It’s the second time the Ravens have restructured the sixth-year defensive lineman’s five-year, $52.5 million contract signed only last March.

NFL Players Association records indicated the Ravens entered Thursday with $12.898 million in cap space, but that was before the free-agent signings of wide receivers Ryan Grant and John Brown became official. Grant agreed to a reported four-year, $29.5 million contract while Brown is receiving a reported one-year, $5 million deal, meaning their additions will eat up a sizable portion of that cap room.

The downside of the Williams restructure is the long-term consequence of increasing cap numbers for the remaining three years of the agreement after 2018. Williams, 29, will carry a $5.92 million cap number this season, but each of the next three seasons now carry cap figures north of $14 million.

For those originally on the fence about the Ravens investing so much in a run-stopping defensive tackle who hasn’t offered much as a pass rusher in his career, these cap ramifications for a player who will soon be on the wrong side of 30 aren’t exactly ideal. But it’s the cost of doing business when you’re tight against the cap and want to make additions to your current roster.

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Veteran wide receiver Maclin officially released by Ravens

Posted on 14 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens envisioned Jeremy Maclin as the next veteran wide receiver to enjoy success in Baltimore after being cast aside elsewhere when he signed a two-year, $11 million contract last June.

But he turned out to be closer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Lee Evans than Steve Smith or Anquan Boldin, prompting Baltimore to release him before the start of the new league year on Wednesday. The move was expected after Maclin caught a career-low 40 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games and never seemed to mesh with his new team. The 29-year-old was also hampered by injuries ranging from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games in October to a knee sprain that ended his season in mid-December.

The move clears roughly $4.5 million in salary cap space when including the player taking Maclin’s place in the “Rule of 51” calculation.

Maclin’s tenure in Baltimore got off on the wrong foot as he recorded only two June minicamp practices with Joe Flacco before the veteran quarterback would then miss all of training camp and the preseason with a back injury. Despite connecting for a touchdown in each of the first two games of the season, the two never developed a consistent rapport. Maclin caught a season-high eight passes for 98 yards in the Week 9 loss at Tennessee, but he would mostly be a non-factor the rest of the way, recording no more than 41 receiving yards in his five remaining contests before injuring his knee early in the Week 15 win at Cleveland.

It marked the second straight disappointing season for Maclin as he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns with Kansas City in 2016. Prior to that, he had recorded back-to-back seasons of at least 1,000 yards and eight touchdown catches.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said earlier this month he intended to make significant changes at the wide receiver position and agreed to deals with free agents Ryan Grant and John Brown on Tuesday. Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro are also free agents who could join Maclin in exiting Baltimore this offseason.

The Ravens have now said goodbye to each of their three notable offensive additions from last year as running back Danny Woodhead and right tackle Austin Howard were let go Tuesday. While Howard played well, the other two battled injuries and didn’t live up to expectations after many questioned why the Ravens didn’t do more to improve a below-average offense from the 2016 season.

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Ravens open their wallet in lucrative wide receiver market

Posted on 13 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome vowed to make changes to the wide receiver room in his final season in charge, resulting in a surprising opening to free agency.

After failing to land a top-tier talent such as Jarvis Landry or Allen Robinson, the Ravens have opened their wallet to spend significant money in one of the most lucrative markets for seemingly-ordinary wide receivers we’ve ever seen. Whether that’s a smart decision is open for debate.

The reported one-year, $5 million agreement with former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown at least involves a wideout who recorded a 1,000-yard season earlier in his career, but the four-year, $29 million deal with $14.5 million guaranteed reportedly struck with former Washington wide receiver Ryan Grant was immediately met with shock and even confusion Tuesday night. Grant did set career highs with 45 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns in 2017, but the 27-year-old has made just 84 receptions for 985 yards and six touchdowns over his four NFL seasons combined.

Is that production worthy of one of the richest wide receiver contracts in team history? Of course, that’s not exactly an extensive list of deals as the Ravens have historically been very thrifty at the position, but this was an organization lacking salary cap space, making the Grant signing even more puzzling.

At such a price, are these two even as good as Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, let alone better?

The 6-foot, 204-pound Grant was a favorite of Washington head coach Jay Gruden and is considered a good route-runner with the ability to play outside or in the slot, but he’s never had as much as a 100-yard game in his career. A 2014 fifth-round pick from Tulane, Grant graded 57th among qualified wide receivers by Pro Football Focus this past season and ranked 60th among outside receivers in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 project, the latter of which labeling him an “ideal” No. 4 receiver.

The Ravens brass clearly sees substantial potential to award him that type of a deal, but scrutiny will understandably until Grant proves critics wrong.

Meanwhile, Brown provides some intriguing upside if he can stay healthy after he caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. The speedy 5-foot-11, 179-pound receiver has averaged 14.5 yards per catch in his career, but he was diagnosed with the sickle-cell trait in 2016 and has been slowed by various injuries over the last two seasons.

In 2017, Brown played in only 10 games and caught 21 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. The former third-round pick from Pittsburg State has caught 173 passes for 2,515 yards and 17 touchdowns in his four-year career.

For Brown, a high ceiling is there, but there’s also a low floor because of health concerns.

With these expected signings at the start of free agency, the Ravens wide receiver room has certainly changed as Newsome promised. Whether it’s truly any better is the fair question.

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Ravens still paying for past mistakes at start of free agency

Posted on 13 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Owner Steve Bisciotti declared last month that the Ravens could “make a splash” to improve one of the NFL’s worst passing attacks, but it was always going to need to come at their price.

Free agency hasn’t yet officially begun, but dreams of a discounted rate for a high-impact wide receiver like Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins are long gone as both agreed to deals for a combined $55 million in guarantees. Former Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham is going to Green Bay. Even second- and third-tier free-agent receivers such as Paul Richardson and Albert Wilson are fetching deals with an average annual value of $8 million despite underwhelming production in their careers.

If the Ravens wanted to hand out a contract or two along those lines — many of them aren’t exactly looking wise — entering the week with less than $5 million in salary cap space left them in poor position. And as Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer noted, the popular three-year structure being used in many deals this offseason makes it difficult for a cap-strapped team to spread out high guarantees and keep a free agent’s 2018 cap number affordable.

That isn’t an excuse, but it serves as a reminder that the Ravens continue to pay for past mistakes that have piled up since Super Bowl XLVII. And it’s why fixing their passing attack in one offseason isn’t going to be easy. Yes, these free-agent prices have looked outrageous, but Baltimore hasn’t shown the ability — or used the necessary resources — to draft and develop its own receivers over the years, either, meaning something has to give at some point.

To their credit, the Ravens have spent to the salary cap on an annual basis, but how they’ve used it is certainly open to criticism as too many back-loaded deals and veteran restructures have frequently left them in tight spots. It’s a vicious cycle that’s contributed to the current era of mediocrity, leaving one to wonder if some type of reset is needed sooner than later. Of course, try selling that strategy to John Harbaugh and his staff, who are likely coaching for their jobs after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Joe Flacco’s biggest critics will point solely to his $24.75 million cap figure and label the remainder of his lucrative contract as holding the roster hostage. Of course, they’d be overlooking the fact that the Ravens felt compelled to give a box safety (Tony Jefferson) a $34 million contract last offseason when it was clear the offense was what needed more help, just a recent example of that side of the ball being neglected in favor of the defense. Two of the three modest veteran additions (running back Danny Woodhead and right tackle Austin Howard) made to the offense last year have already been jettisoned with the other (wide receiver Jeremy Maclin) possibly going next, illustrating the minimal impact they made.

Only four of Baltimore’s 17 combined picks in the first three rounds of the last five drafts have been used on offensive players with all four of their Day 1 and Day 2 selections last year spent on defense. Exactly one of those four offensive picks — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — has panned out with wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams standing out as major disappointments at positions of great need. Making matters worse, several of those early picks on defense didn’t pan out, either, which compelled general manager Ozzie Newsome to pump even more resources into positions like safety.

The Ravens did re-sign offensive lineman James Hurst on Monday, but it’s difficult selling that move as a positive after the decision to cut Howard, who was solid at right tackle last season. Neither Hurst nor Alex Lewis is a proven starter at the position, creating another question mark on offense to go with the gaping holes at wide receiver and tight end. And should center Ryan Jensen receive the lucrative deal elsewhere that many are predicting, it would mark the third straight offseason in which the Ravens have lost an above-average offensive lineman in free agency.

When you haven’t spent major free-agent money or used meaningful draft capital on your offense, what exactly do you really expect from Flacco, who clearly has his own flaws?

Perhaps this offseason and this draft will be different. A number of marquee free agents have already come off the board, but potential value remains and some cap casualties are still to come with Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson being the latest cut loose on Tuesday. Maybe the organization will actually focus on the offense for this year’s draft and hit on multiple picks in a way similar to how New Orleans reversed its fortunes last year.

It’s only mid-March and much will happen between now and the start of the season, but the Ravens’ needs are too great and their resources too limited to simply trust that everything will be OK.

Too many mistakes in recent years leave them no longer enjoying the benefit of the doubt like they once did.

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