Free agency is upon us, and this year, in Baltimore, the NFL’s Christmas-in-springtime shopping extravaganza comes with a ready-made title:
Where’s the splash?
Or perhaps, more accurately, what’s a splash?
Let me explain. Back on Feb. 2, when asked if his team’s tight salary-cap situation might preclude it from addressing the shortage of playmakers that became evident last season, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti said, “I think that we can make a splash and help us on the way to getting our offense clicking better.”
Most people took that as code for: Yup, we’re looking for some quality receivers. “We will be exploring all options in free agency and the draft for Joe,” Bisciotti added, obviously referencing targets for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Well, mid-March is here and it’s time to get wet. But for the Ravens, arranging a Three Stooges-style splash to the face isn’t so simple.
Their limited cap situation IS an issue. My guess is they would have gladly given up the two modest draft picks (a fourth and a seventh) the Cleveland Browns relinquished to obtain Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry last week, but plain and simple, his price range was too high.
Teams such as the Browns, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers all have so much more money to spend that it’s barely a fair fight. Various media outlets are reporting that the Bears will sign another of this year’s most attractive free agent receivers, Allen Robinson, when the market opens Wednesday. The Kansas City Chiefs will get another, Sammy Watkins.
I’m sure the Ravens are still considering other possibilities, but I’m guessing the tepid state of their passing game in 2017 doesn’t help in the recruitment of receivers.
See what I mean? It’s tough to get wet.
The Ravens are busy, mind you. On Monday, they signed offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year, $17.5 million deal to keep him from leaving as a free agent. They also parted ways with longtime defensive stalwart Lardarius Webb to free up some cap space. They reportedly will move on from tackle Austin Howard and running back Danny Woodhead. More moves are coming, no doubt.
The Hurst signing is the antithesis of a splashy move, which is ironic, because if you tossed the 317-pound lineman in a pool, he would cannonball out most of the water.
But you’re not going to hear a negative peep from me about it. Signing Hurst helps solidify the offensive line, which is about the soundest thing any team can do at any time. Call it the football version of putting some of your paycheck in your 401k. It isn’t exciting, but you won’t regret it.
Hurst, 26, hasn’t been a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but with a strong drive and work ethic, he has made himself into a starting-caliber contributor. He possesses two important qualities that make him valuable. He’s durable and versatile.
He has never missed a game in four seasons with the Ravens. Last season, he started all 16 games and led the team in snaps. That’s right, he was on the field more than any player.
Given the injury bug that has struck the Ravens in recent years, if they’re going to pay guys, why not pay the ones who actually play, right?
Hurst also can man four of the five positions on the line (either tackle or guard spot), which gives him multiple chances to become an important piece of the puzzle up front. With Hurst, Ronnie Stanley, Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura and a potential draft pick(s), the Ravens have the makings of a strong line.
If center Ryan Jensen, a free agent, receives a nice offer and leaves – my prediction – don’t be shocked if Lewis gets a shot to replace him. That would probably mean Hurst is back at left guard in 2018.
In any event, as noted, while bolstering the line certainly makes sense, it’s not the “splash” Baltimore fans envisioned. And the pressure on the Ravens to make it happen, to do something, is only increasing as more big-name free agent receivers sign elsewhere.
The public is waiting, poolside, hoping to have to towel off.