OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco said two months ago that he didn’t believe the Ravens needed to sign a wide receiver after the early waves of free agency had come and gone without an addition.
The quarterback was understandably expressing confidence in a group of young options that included 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore, but we all knew the truth about what the offense still lacked. A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome agreed to terms with former Pro Bowl wideout Jeremy Maclin on a two-year contract worth a reported $11 million, Flacco acknowledged it being a game-changing addition for the passing game.
The Ravens are confident that the 29-year-old will rebound from an injury-plagued 2016 in which he caught just 44 passes for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games and look more like the versatile target who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015. Doing so would make him the latest veteran receiver to enjoy a renaissance in Baltimore, joining the likes of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, and, most recently, Mike Wallace.
“Anytime you can add a good player, it helps your team,” said Flacco, a southern New Jersey native who first met Maclin when he played in Philadelphia earlier in his career. “I think we have a lot of guys out there competing, and putting him in that room will just up that ante a little bit.”
In fact, if it were up to the 10th-year quarterback, the stakes could still be raised higher. Asked about reports of the Ravens still being interested in former New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, Flacco praised a track record that includes three 1,000-yard seasons, two of them coming while playing with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning in Denver.
With the Ravens having lost roughly half of their receiving production from a year ago with wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, tight end Dennis Pitta, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk no longer on the roster, you can hardly blame Flacco for welcoming the possibility of adding another weapon. Of course, what precious salary-cap space that remains for the Ravens might be better spent adding a veteran offensive lineman before the start of the regular season.
Decker’s ability to work in the slot and to make catches on third down to move the chains would give the Ravens something they lost with Pitta’s third catastrophic hip injury and release earlier this month.
“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially [after] losing Dennis Pitta and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things,” Flacco said. “I think Marty Mornhinweg was probably with him up in New York when he was there. He’s been a great receiver, and he’s played with some good quarterbacks.”
Of course, Maclin’s addition is expected to alter the projected role for Perriman, who has been working as a starter opposite the speedy veteran Wallace in spring workouts. It will be interesting to see how the talented 23-year-old responds to having more veteran competition atop the depth chart after it looked like he might have a largely uncontested path to a starting role.
Flacco has seen much growth in Perriman from last year when they often weren’t on the same page. If the passing game is to thrive after finishing 28th in the NFL in yards per attempt in 2016, the young receiver needs to make meaningful strides to at least complement Maclin and Wallace.
“You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing,” Flacco said. “Then, when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year when he was running by people, and you could tell he had something. He’s back at that level running, and his confidence is at an all-time high.”
With Maclin arriving in Owings Mills Tuesday and expected to be on the field for the second day of mandatory minicamp, the entire Ravens offense should also be feeling more confident with another accomplished receiver now part of the equation.