When Jeremy Maclin decided to sign with the Ravens last month, the sigh of relief around the Under Armour Performance Center was almost audible.
The Ravens had entered the offseason with a stated goal of bolstering their offense's playmaking ability, but they ended up focusing more on their defense in free agency and the draft. Danny Woodhead, a veteran back coming back from a major knee injury, was the only potential offensive playmaker they had added.
By June, with Steve Smith Sr., Dennis Pitta and Kamar Aiken gone and running back Kenneth Dixon facing a suspension to start the 2017 season, it was fair to wonder whether the team's playmaking quotient actually was lower compared to a year ago.
That the Ravens pounced when Maclin became available was no surprise. Yes, he was coming off his worst NFL season, having caught just 44 passes in Kansas City. But it turns out he played with a torn groin muscle, which probably explains a lot, and before that, he was a bona fide No. 1 receiver. If healthy – and the Ravens obviously believe he is or they wouldn't have signed him – he was exactly what the offense needed.
His signing prompted that audible sigh of relief because the organization finally addressed the playmaking issue. But there also were tremors of excitement. Adding a receiver of Maclin's caliber was close to a best-case scenario. Other possible additions being discussed weren't as exciting.
It's an understatement to say the Ravens' wide receiving corps looks better now. It looks a whole lot better. As a dedicated route runner, Maclin offsets the pure speed of Mike Wallace, who surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in his first season with the Ravens in 2016. And together, as veterans with track records, Maclin and Wallace give Breshad Perriman some breathing room.
Honestly, I think that's one of the most positive byproducts of adding Maclin.
It's easy to portray the move as a subtle jab at Perriman, the 23-year-old former first-round draft pick who was penciled in to start opposite Wallace until Maclin came along, and now shapes up as the No. 3. But I think it's a great move for Perriman.
Before Maclin joined the team, Perriman was in a situation I saw as fairly precarious. After losing his rookie season to a knee injury, he only had one up-and-down season on his resume, and it was clear in that season that he needed to become more polished and consistent. Yet now he was going to be starting on an offense under intense scrutiny after underperforming in 2016. It was asking a lot, I thought.
Yes, Perriman is always going to be under pressure to produce because of the round he was drafted in. But if he didn't develop into the major playmaker the Ravens needed in 2017, he was going to take a lot of heat.
Now Maclin and Wallace will shoulder the brunt of that pressure to produce. But they're veterans who can handle it.
And Perriman, well, he can just play.
He has received a lot of criticism since he was drafted, but he has put his head down and continued to work at developing his complicated craft. The fruits of his labor were evident at moments last season and then really evident in spring practices this year. He was more than just improved. He was beginning to look like a difference-maker, using his speed, size and big hands to gain separation and make catches.
Every player develops at his own rate. The Ravens and their fans certainly wanted Perriman to move along faster, but reality intervened.
Now, Wallace has taken on the project of showing him the ropes. The two were always together at spring workouts, with the older player usually doing the talking. Maclin, known as a wily player, could become another mentor.
Perriman, if you ask me, is in a great place now, seemingly poised to take several steps forward, yet no longer in a "do it or else" pressure cooker. It wouldn't surprise me to see him emerge as the big-play guy the Ravens wanted all along, perhaps sooner rather than later.