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Eisenberg: Be Careful with the 'Choirboy' Narrative


There are several Ravens narratives that float along permanently in the public discourse, facts notwithstanding.

One is that Joe Flacco's big contract has kept them from making the playoffs twice in the past three seasons, leaving no money for the rest of the team. It's complete fiction. Flacco's had the team's fourth-highest salary cap hit in 2013. His hit was lower than those for 11 other NFL quarterbacks in 2015.

No matter. The "Flacco killing the team" narrative rolls on.

Now there's another: the Ravens have "lost their swagger" because all they want are "choirboys" and meek veterans who won't challenge Head Coach John Harbaugh's authority.

I hear and read that quite a bit, louder than ever after last week's draft. It's prevalent enough that I'm sure some people are going to roll with it regardless of what anyone suggests.

But I would be very, very careful with espousing that as a postulate posted on the walls of the Under Armour Performance Center.

If all the Ravens want are choirboys, how come they just drafted a tackle who did jail time on a third-degree assault charge in 2014?

And if all they want are meek veterans who toe the company line, how come their marquee free agent signing, Eric Weddle, ended his tenure with his former team by taking on management and getting suspended?

See what I mean? Be very, very careful.

Is Steve Smith Sr. meek? YOU can suggest that to him; I won't. Smith is a big-hearted family man, but few players speak more bluntly or play with a sharper edge.

As for going all-choirboy, the Ravens' defense features one player (Timmy Jernigan) who tested positive for a diluted urine sample at the combine, and another (Jimmy Smith) who came out of college with a past that scared off many teams. The Ravens drafted both with high picks and were rewarded.

Are they generally looking to add solid citizens with clean backgrounds, especially in the draft? Sure. But what team doesn't want "character" guys? At the risk of generalizing, they're more likely to practice hard and stay out of trouble. They're better building blocks, better investments.

On the other hand, you always need guys who are physical to the point of nasty in this rugged sport, and again at the risk of generalizing, sometimes they come with issues. A team can benefit from walking that line. Hey, I recently wrote that the Ravens would love to have "90 percent of Vontaze Burfict," meaning the part of the Cincinnati linebacker that piles up tackles, not the part that crosses lines and gets suspended.

Are the Ravens risk averse? I don't think so. I do think they're being careful in the aftermath of the Ray Rice scandal, as they should be, but careful is one thing and cautious is another, the latter implying an unwillingness to take chances.

Other than not taking anyone whose past includes a whiff of domestic violence, they're seemingly willing to weigh anything as part of a risk-reward calculation on a player.

Weddle was easy. After nine years as an enthusiastic team leader in San Diego, he took a stand over a family issue. Big deal.

Laremy Tunsil? I didn't blame the Ravens for passing after the infamous gas mask-and-bong video surfaced – who needs that? Nor could I blame them for passing on pass rusher Noah Spence, a young man trying to overcome a past marred by drug issues.

But then the Ravens took a tackle in the fourth round (Alex Lewis) even though he did jail time in 2014 after an altercation that left an Air Force cadet unconscious.

What gives? Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz explained that the team performs extensive background checks and was "very comfortable" with Lewis. Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told ESPN he believed in Lewis and thought the young man had "learned his lesson."

It's all a dice roll, of course. You never really know about anyone. Rice was deemed a civic treasure until he got in trouble.

All a team can do is try to improve its odds by adding players who won't embarrass the franchise ... and also can play.

But there's no doubt what matters most. As part of a viciously competitive, bottom-line industry, the Ravens are well aware their won-loss record is how they're judged. In almost all cases, when considering a player, they care about the salary cap, depth-chart and on-field implications a lot more than taking a moral stand.

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