Eisenberg: How Did Ravens Get Here?


I'm not going to revise history and say I saw this coming. I admit, I was optimistic about the Ravens' chances when the 2015 season began. I thought they would be a winning team, capable of a January run.

I didn't expect to have to write a "what's wrong" column, especially so soon.

But here we are.

After Sunday's home loss to the Cleveland Browns, they're 1-4 for the first time with trips to San Francisco and Arizona looming. A rough season lies ahead if they can't get themselves turned around.

What happened? How did we get here?

It doesn't take a football sleuth to identify some factors. The Ravens have blown late leads, lost numerous key players to injuries, drawn untimely penalties. Their defense can't get off the field late. Did I mention they have injuries?

You've seen all that, of course. But other important factors – ones you can't see – also have contributed to their being 1-4.

For instance, they're paying a whopping $21.3 million in salary cap dollars to players no longer on the team, according to Sportrac. That's almost 15 percent of their 2015 cap allotment.

Every team deals with "dead money," but the Ravens are in deep this year. They could have used the money to add impact players or try to re-sign Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith, but their hands were tied because they're being charged so much for cutting ties with Ray Rice ($9.5 million), Haloti Ngata ($7.5 million) and others.

It was no secret the Ravens had this issue. I thought they could get past it. With everything else going on, it's not helping, that's for sure.

They also aren't getting the optimal bang for some of the big bucks they've spent. What do linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, tight end Dennis Pitta, and cornerback Lardarius Webb have in common? They all signed big contracts and/or extensions in recent years, and none were on the field Sunday with the game on the line.

The problem was they were all injured – a spectacular run of bad luck. And even though tackle Eugene Monroe was back on the field Sunday and played well, he has sat out nine games with injuries since signing a deal in 2014. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is having an up-and-down season after signing his big deal in March.

When you hand out big contracts, you're laying the foundation of your football house. The signings of guard Marshal Yanda, receiver Steve Smith Sr., running back Justin Forsett and Dumervil have paid off (although Smith sat out Sunday's game and Dumervil missed the second half), but when so many of your highest-paid players are out, you're asking your second and third tiers to win for you. A contractor would call that a foundation problem.

There's also the fact that they're not getting much production from their top picks in several recent drafts. Their 2013 first-round pick, safety Matt Elam, is out for the year. Linebacker Arthur Brown, their second-round pick that year, plays only on special teams. This year's top pick, receiver Breshad Perriman, hasn't played because of a knee injury. The second-round pick, tight end Maxx Williams, has eight catches.

When you lose puzzle pieces to free agency every year, as the Ravens do, you count on reloading with young talent, with your high picks leading the way. The Ravens have done it for years. Their track record in the draft is among the best, and they've scored with recent high picks such as linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, guard Kelechi Osemele and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, as well as lower-round picks and/or undrafted free agents such as kicker Justin Tucker and tackle Rick Wagner.

No one should expect them to throw a perfect game, but when so many high picks either aren't playing or producing much at the same time, you're basically missing a generation you penciled in. Tough stuff.

Obviously, while the players and coaches aren't blaming 1-4 on injuries because every team deals with them, the Ravens do have a lot – a whole lot. Life certainly would be better if Suggs, Perriman and the others had been healthy all along.

But no one factor explains what's happening. It's more than injuries, for sure; it's everything from cap issues to on-field decision-making.

As I said, I didn't see it coming. I knew the Ravens had a tough early schedule and a dead-money issue, but they're usually so sure-footed that I thought they could survive. Instead, they're 1-4 and in last place, living the name of that '90s movie:

Reality bites

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