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Joe Flacco Behind Ravens' Signings


If the Ravens are operating on the premise that this offseason is mostly about giving Joe Flacco a better chance to shine in 2014 – and I believe they are – they're certainly making strides.

The players they have prioritized as "bring backs" include a solid blind-side tackle (Eugene Monroe) to anchor Flacco's protection; Flacco's security blanket and favorite target in the world (Dennis Pitta); and a dangerous deep threat (Jacoby Jones) who has already demonstrated productive chemistry with Flacco.

Now, their first major veteran addition (i.e., from another team) is an elite wide receiver, Steve Smith, who agreed to a deal late Friday afternoon, significantly upgrading the pass-catching corps.

The Ravens haven't ignored their defense, mind you. They shelled out quite a bit to bring Terrell Suggs back, and Friday's signing of Daryl Smith was crucial. Smith got a nice raise because the Ravens couldn't afford to lose him.

They're enjoying a nice start to free agency, no question. But look closely. The losses they regret (Arthur Jones, Corey Graham, Jameel McClain) have occurred on the other side of the ball from Flacco, while the biggest losses on Flacco's side so far are a fullback (Vonta Leach) who wasn't much of a factor in 2013 and a tackle (Michael Oher) the Ravens clearly didn't prioritize.

Sure, free agency just started and those new defensive holes will eventually get addressed. The blueprint right now calls for young guys such as Arthur Brown, DeAngelo Tyson, Brandon Williams, Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson to step in, but it's not clear yet how successfully each can "next man up." Veterans will be added to the mix at some of those spots along with the free safety GM Ozzie Newsome has identified as a priority.

But it seems clear, as this offseason rolls on, that the organization is focused most intently on getting a better return on its big investment in Flacco, the quarterback who has demonstrated he can carry a team a long way when given quality support.

That support was palpably lacking at times in 2013. The front office traded one of Flacco's top targets, Anquan Boldin, without adequately replacing him. Pitta missed most of the season with a hip injury. The offensive line broke down.

Those excuses are not meant to absolve Flacco, whose career-high interception total included numerous throws he regretted as soon as they left his hand. He needs to play better, as he has acknowledged.

But if the front office believes that surrounding him with a more effective cast is the best way to make that happen, well, they're certainly walking the walk. Hiring Gary Kubiak as a new offensive coordinator was a huge step. Bringing back Monroe, Pitta and Jones cemented the foundation. Now, Steve Smith's addition significantly ramps up the electricity.

A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Smith is tough, physical and intensely competitive, a feisty target capable of moving the chains and delivering in the red zone – a natural fit for the Ravens. They were smart to move quickly instead of methodically, get him in town and lock him up before he started visiting other teams.

Smith shied away from comparisons to Boldin late Friday, but he is the replacement for Boldin, a year later.

Yes, he is turning 35 and coming off an average season by his standards. It could be his best years are behind him. But with Carolina having dumped him after 13 years, he should have plenty of motivation.

Some might think his age made him a less ideal fit than say, Julian Edelman, who is seven years younger, coming off a 105-catch season and also available. But I like Smith. He has had many more years at the top of the game. And it didn't take a massive, long-term commitment to get him. I'm all for that. Many of the big deals being signed around the league this week will either be reworked or tossed out within a couple of years, buyer's remorse having quickly sunk in. Free agency makes teams do crazy things. Unless you're locking in a franchise guy, getting a nice player on a shorter deal is always preferable.

In any case, Flacco now has the go-to route runner he so sorely lacked in 2013. And the process of upgrading his surroundings probably isn't over. It wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens still invest a high draft pick in a receiver. They learned the hard way that it's better to give their quarterback an array of targets rather than too few. The fix is well underway.

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