Eisenberg: Ravens Should Stick To Draft Philosophy

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I wasn't in the war room when they were on the clock in the first round in 2008 after finishing 5-11 in 2007, but I'm guessing someone said, "You know what, we could reeeally use a quarterback." They took Joe Flacco (and haven't missed the playoffs since).

It also appears that they sought to fill a need when they took quarterback Kyle Boller in 2003, a year after Elvis Grbac walked away from football; and when they took Mark Clayton in 2005 coming off a season in which Travis Taylor, Kevin Johnson and Randy Hymes were their wideouts.

All of which brings us to next month's 2011 draft, in which the Ravens might have to think hard about their approach because of the ongoing labor impasse.

Ordinarily, free agency begins long before the draft, in early March, and teams use it to fill some needs, leaving them with a clearer vision of what they need to do in the draft. But there has been no free agency this year because of the labor situation, and with the owners and players seemingly not close to settling, it appears there will be no free agency anytime soon.

We can only assume it will take place after an agreement is reached and before the next season takes place, whenever that is.

That means the draft is taking place before free agency for the first time, and while that might not seem like a big deal to you, it's potentially a major game-changer in personnel offices across the league. Unable to use free agency to fill their holes, they might have no choice but to use the draft to do so.

If, say, you desperately need a center but can't be sure you'll get one via free agency, you better grab one in the draft.

It is a concept that directly conflicts with the Ravens' general approach to the draft, so what are they going to do?

They certainly have their share of needs, having talked about adding a speed receiver, another pass rusher, a cornerstone cornerback or an offensive tackle – enough spots that there's a reasonable chance of a player from one of those positions being perched atop their draft board when they're on the clock next month. That would make things simple.

But what if a linebacker or a defensive tackle is the best player available (in their opinion) when it is their turn in the first round? Do they take that player, leaving holes in their team that they might not be able to fill via free agency?

It's a tough call, but I'm guessing the Ravens would stick to their philosophy, as they should.

The idea is to take a player who can become a perennial starter, a lasting contributor, regardless of position – that's how you build a winning team. That shouldn't change because of the labor issue and resulting lack of free agency. Frankly, eight years from now, no one will remember that those circumstances even were in play; they will only remember who the Ravens drafted and whether he was any good.

Yes, the Ravens run the risk of hurting themselves in the short run if they stick to their principles and come away from the draft without a top-caliber pass rusher or speed receiver (look for that to come in the second or third round, by the way). They don't know if they can pick one up in free agency.

But let's be clear – the Ravens have become a perennial playoff team because they generally stick to their principles and take the best players available rather than reaching or gambling because of short-term concerns. They should stick to what they believe in. It works.

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