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Eisenberg: Skeptical About Ravens-McClain Marriage


So far, the marriage of linebacker Rolando McClain and the Ravens has succeeded only in providing surprising developments that make you scratch your head and go, "Huh?"

Shortly after the Ravens signed him to a low-risk one-year deal last year, McClain walked away from the NFL at age 23 – pretty bizarre.

Now on the comeback trail after spending a year getting his act together, he reportedly could not finish a conditioning test earlier this week, sending discouraging signals about his prospects. But in another strange turn, just when it seemed the Ravens probably were ready to cut ties, they activated him from the reserve-retired list, returning him to their roster.

It's enough to make you wonder what strange, surprising turn is next. McClain becomes a tight end? Runs for political office? (Just kidding, there are limits.) I imagine the Ravens themselves are wondering.

They would love for the surprise to be a happy one: McClain values the last-gasp opportunity, wins a perfect attendance award at the voluntary offseason workout program and shows he can help in 2014.

But if you're expecting that, or even just hoping it's a possibility, my advice would be to lower your sights. His unusual interaction with the Ravens has generated a lot of conversation and made for interesting viewing, but at this point, there are no indications it will end like that. He isn't in shape. He hasn't played in a year. He's had a spate of off-field issues and reportedly was late to his workout earlier this week.

Count me as skeptical and then some.

A year ago, when Jimmy Smith was entering his third pro season, it seemed unlikely the Ravens would pick up the optional fifth year on his rookie deal. His first two years had not gone that well, especially for a first-round pick.

But a lot has changed. Smith earned a starting spot in 2013, demonstrating solid coverage skills and the physical style the Ravens like. Picking up his fifth year became a no-brainer. Smith is a key puzzle piece.

His story serves as a cautionary tale about young players, the draft and expectations.

It would be nice if every high pick could step into a starting role, just as the front office imagines in the war room and the Ravens experienced in 2013 with safety Matt Elam. But some players take longer to bake. Their age, their position, their health – any number of factors can slow their developmental arc. When that happens, fans and media need to exhibit patience, an increasingly rare commodity in an era when draft picks (and just about everything else in the NFL) are instantly graded.

Even after making a bunch of moves in free agency, the Ravens still have needs. But I'm thinking they won't address those needs with veteran signings until after the draft next month, if then. They want to see what they get in the draft before they proceed.

With that in mind, it's hard to pinpoint available veterans who would make sense as fits. The Ravens might not need them once the draft is over.

Nonetheless, here are few free agents who are still available and would make sense if the Ravens go with a veteran to fill their hole:

  • Ben Hartsock, TE – Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels will be the pass-catching tight ends in 2014, but where's the blocking-centric tight end for Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's downhill running game? It's hard to do better than Hartsock, 33, who played for Carolina in 2013 and graded out as the league's top blocking tight end, according to Pro Football Focus.
  • Eric Winston, OT – Yes, he's still out there. I'm guessing the Ravens will take either a safety or an offensive lineman with their top pick, but they could easily come away from the draft without a starter to pencil in at right tackle. Winston, 30, excelled under Kubiak in Houston.
  • Kevin Williams, DT – The defensive interior is an under-the-radar need for the Ravens, who rotate a lot of guys there. Do they have enough? They were concerned enough to bring back Terrence Cody on a one-year deal. Williams, 33, could fit in. He was solid for Minnesota in 2013, and a visit with the Giants earlier this week did not produce a deal.
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