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Eisenberg: The 'Plan B Crew' Is Off To A Good Start


When the Ravens took a deeper dive than usual into the waters of free agency earlier this year, I had some fun and referred to the new signings as the law firm of Watson, Weddle and Wallace.

But a more appropriate nickname for them really was the Plan B Crew, because that's what the new players constituted at each of their positions.

Think about it. When the Ravens took safeties with a first-round draft pick in 2013 and a third-round pick in 2014, they surely didn't imagine needing to invest significant free-agent dollars to stabilize the position in 2016. But that's what they want Eric Weddle to do.

Along the same lines, they probably didn't think they'd need to sign a speedy free-agent receiver just one year after drafting one in the first round. But with injuries curtailing the start of Breshad Perriman's career, they felt compelled to add Mike Wallace.

At tight end, after the Ravens drafted four players in the top four rounds between 2010 and 2015, they probably didn't think they'd need to address the position in March 2016. But a run of injuries led them to sign Benjamin Watson for the sake of stability.

Watson didn't make it to the regular season; he suffered an Achilles tear in a preseason game and was lost for the year. But in their Baltimore debuts against Buffalo last Sunday, the Ravens' other Plan B guys made quite a first impression.

Wallace delivered exactly what the Ravens want from him, a game-breaking play. His 66-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter "made the difference in the game," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week.

Weddle captained an overhauled secondary that limited the Bills to just 95 passing yards, leaving Baltimore's defense with a No. 1 league ranking in that metric after one week.

They're a yin-and-yang pair when you think about it, charged with producing at opposite ends of the same spectrum. Wallace was brought in to enhance the Ravens' speed and explosiveness, qualities the offense lacked last season. Weddle was signed because the defense was susceptible to speed and explosiveness and needed to do a better job of preventing big plays.

One is here to add, the other to subtract.

In a perfect world, neither would be Ravens because the above-mentioned draft picks would have come in and filled those positions. That's Plan A, always the most desirable option. Your draft should dominate your roster. Young guys don't cost as much and you get to keep them around longer.

But … breaking news here … the world isn't perfect. Stuff happens. Some draft picks work out nicely and others don't. Plan B inevitably becomes a necessity at certain positions.

The nice part about bringing in free agents is they're veterans, fully baked pros you can plug and play, as opposed to newbies needing to learn the ropes. The Ravens knew exactly what they were getting with Wallace and Weddle, at least potentially. Wallace's career average of 15.2 yards per catch speaks for itself. Weddle solidified the secondary of his former team, the San Diego Chargers, providing glue and communication, qualities the Raven lacked in 2015.

But even though they were perfect fits in theory, penciling any free agent into your lineup is inherently risky. A major question always looms: Is the player still at his best after so many years of football?

In part because the answer to that question can be tough to discern, the Ravens have tended to shy away from free agents over the years. The market's high prices also impact their decision-making.

But they also have a track record of identifying the right veterans who can come in and help the team win – Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Derek Mason, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. are among those who have done it. The Ravens hope Weddle, 31, and Wallace 30, will follow those players' leads.

They're off to great starts, but the season just started and they need to continue to perform. Both recently expressed confidence that they'll play at a high level, but it's what they do that counts, not what they say.

If the Ravens continue making big plays on offense and limiting them on defense, you'll know how Plan B is going.

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