As the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield might have said, durability gets little respect among the array of positive player attributes that get cited in football conversations.
Qualities such as speed, toughness and the ability to make plays are always assigned more importance. If a guy is durable, that usually just gets tacked on at the end.
“He can do a lot for you,” it is said, “such as (fill in the blank depending on the player). Oh, and he’s also durable.”
Yeah, that, too.
Durability is the etcetera-etcetera of compliments, the yadda-yadda of praise.
But I’m here to argue it deserves more respect, especially in Baltimore, where the Ravens often point to injuries as having wrecked their plans during a recent run of non-playoff seasons.
With that history in mind and the start of free agency less than a month away, I’m here to argue that durability should be a prime consideration for the Ravens as they go about building their roster for 2018.
Their free-agent signings of a year ago illustrate why it deserves attention.
Of the five “major” players the Ravens signed off the open market, two were known for being durable. Safety Tony Jefferson had missed one game in his four years in the NFL. Cornerback Brandon Carr, amazingly, had never missed a start in nine seasons.
True to form, both started every game for the Ravens in 2017. Although they didn’t earn the highest grades from Pro Football Focus, they brought stability and consistency to a highly-ranked unit. And by staying on the field, they didn’t force the organization to resort to Plan B at their positions, as happened at so many other places in the lineup, to the Ravens’ great detriment.
Oh, yeah, that.
Another of the team’s free agents, running back Danny Woodhead, came with a more ominous record. He had only played in 21 of 48 games since 2014 because of injuries.
The Ravens hoped he would stay healthy and contribute, but he missed the preseason and first half of the regular season with a hamstring injury and never really got into a groove.
The team’s other two major signings brought mixed histories. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin missed just six starts in his first six years in the league, but things were trending in the wrong direction with an ankle sprain in the 2015 playoffs and a torn groin muscle in 2016. Offensive tackle Austin Howard started more than 50 straight games for the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders before a knee injury forced him out of five games in 2016.
What happened when they played for the Ravens in 2017? Maclin’s wrong-way spiral continued, as he dealt with several injuries and finished with a career-low 40 receptions. Howard, though, provided the durability that had enhanced his value before he came to Baltimore. He started every game for the Ravens and finished second on the team in snaps played.
Obviously, predicting whether certain players will get injured is a dubious exercise. Not even the most durable player can walk away from a teammate or opponent rolling into his leg the wrong way. That’s what ended Joe Flacco’s run of 122 straight regular-season starts in 2015 – bad luck beyond the reaches of planning or foresight.
But at the same time, the histories of certain players warrant consideration. Carr, for instance, is being listed as a possible salary-cap casualty, but I’d be careful about parting ways with a player so dependable. The alternative is a scramble to fill his spot.
Then there’s the example of two prime receivers about to hit free agency. Jarvis Landry has never missed a game in his four years in the league. Allen Robinson suffered a foot fracture as a rookie in 2014 and missed all but the first few snaps of last season because of a torn ACL.
Both are talented, but if forced to choose, I’m thinking the guy who is always on the field gives you a better shot at getting maximum bang for your buck.
After experiencing such a debilitating run of injuries in recent years, the Ravens should always try to improve their odds in this undervalued metric.