Eisenberg: Ozzie Newsome Walking A Fine Line


Believe it or not, I'm thinking one of Yogi Berra's famously bungled aphorisms sums up the Ravens' approach to the 2015 season in the wake of their 0-3 start.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Yes, that's a real quote. Make of it what you wish. I'm not sure Berra, who died last month, had some great lesson in mind.

But one certainly could take it to mean you can take BOTH forks, or two different paths, as the Ravens have done.

As you know, their disappointing early struggles left them in an ugly reality. Since 1991, no team has made the playoffs after starting 0-3. But instead of giving up and starting to plan for next season, the Ravens have doubled down on 2015.

On Sept. 21, they traded a seventh-round draft pick for cornerback Will Davis. On Oct. 3, they traded a conditional draft pick for receiver Chris Givens. There are rumors about them possibly making another move, perhaps for another receiver.

It's clear the organization believes it can overcome 0-3 and climb into the playoff picture. Why else are they dealing?

GM Ozzie Newsome hates giving up draft picks, but after a string of injuries to receivers and some rough games in the secondary, he's endeavoring to give Head Coach John Harbaugh more of a winning hand.

I have no problems with this, trying to salvage a season gone awry.

Yes, they're three games behind Cincinnati in the AFC North and have lost to the Bengals in Baltimore, so their chances of winning a division title appear miniscule. But have you checked the wild-card picture? Talk about up for grabs.

If the season ended today, the New York Jets would claim one of the AFC's two wild-card spots with a 3-1 record. But no other wild-card contender (i.e., non-division leader) has a winning record. Four teams are 2-2, and the Ravens are one of five teams at 1-3.

It's a big mess, but bottom line, the Ravens are just one game out in the race for the AFC's second wild card berth.

Yes, that's quite a comedown for a team that opened the season as a popular Super Bowl pick. Nonetheless, you couldn't ask for more fortunate circumstances after starting 0-3.

Sure, it's inevitable some of those other teams win enough to separate themselves from the pack and raise the wild-card bar. The Ravens' challenge is to steady themselves, start winning and make up ground.

There are no guarantees they can do it with so many key offensive pieces injured, but my point is, they still have plenty to play for. Why not make deals to try to improve their prospects?

So far, so good. If Davis' debut in Pittsburgh last week was any indication, he's a lively presence in the secondary, a nice pickup. And the offense is so desperate for speed that I'm sure Givens will be given every chance to make plays starting Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Importantly, Newsome didn't give away precious possessions to add them. A seventh-round pick? A conditional pick? The Ravens can afford that.

But I wouldn't advocate them dealing away assets of much more significance.

For instance, a third-round pick for Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery? No thanks. A third-round pick is a player. Brandon Williams was a third-round pick. Crockett Gillmore was a third-round pick. The Ravens' bedrock philosophy is to build with young pieces, and I'm not giving one up for a player (Jeffery) who has a hamstring injury and is due to hit free agency after this season.

I'm not even sure Jeffery is "in play." Other names are circulating. Whatever. My point is, this isn't baseball, where you can alter the course of your season with an in-season deal. In football, there are more parts to a team, too many to fix on the fly. Generally speaking, no matter what moves you make in-season, you're going to win and lose with the players you counted on when the season began.

Giving up a valuable asset along the way strikes me as a bad risk/reward proposition.

The Ravens have abstained so far. They're walking a fine line. Taking two forks. They've made deals to help themselves, but they haven't gone crazy and dealt away their future to save a troubled present.

Somewhere, Yogi Berra is nodding. Makes perfect sense.

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