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.