*Editor's Note: Garrett Downing will writeLate For Work this weekwhileSarah Ellison is in Mobile, Ala. to cover the Senior Bowl. *
Would Ravens Consider WR Josh Gordon?
The Ravens want to add a wide receiver or two this offseason. They also want additional playmakers.
Josh Gordon checks off both of those boxes.
The big-play wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns is one of the best pass catchers in the NFL when he's on the field, and he recently applied for reinstatement after serving a suspension during the entire 2015 season.
If the Browns parted ways with Gordon, would the Ravens have interest in him?
"The Ravens would absolutely be interested in Gordon, along with 20 other teams," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote in his mailbag column.
Talent has never been a question for Gordon, who was a second-round supplemental draft pick in 2012. Gordon entered the NFL through the supplemental draft because he was suspended indefinitely at Baylor.
Gordon made an immediate impact once he got to the pros, racking up an NFL-leading 1,646 receiving yards and nine touchdowns during his second season.
But he's been unable to stay out of trouble off the field. Gordon has served three suspensions for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse, and he would face an indefinite suspension if he violates the policy again.
The other obstacle (and perhaps the most significant barrier) is that Gordon is still under contract with the Cleveland Browns, and they have made no indication they plan to cut him.
If the NFL grants Gordon's application for reinstatement, Hensley expects him back in Cleveland.
"Gordon probably won't be available until 2018 at the earliest," Hensley wrote. "He's under contract for nearly $1.1 million in 2016, which is a pittance for a playmaking receiver, and he's a restricted free agent in 2017. It's hard to imagine new coach Hue Jackson letting go of Gordon. If Gordon is suspended again, he will be banned indefinitely and the Browns won't have to pay him. If he plays, the Browns have a premium weapon for a rookie quarterback."
But if the Browns do pull a surprising move and cut Gordon, then Hensley could see the Ravens making a play for him.
"Just imagine Joe Flacco throwing deep to Gordon, who has a career 17.1-yard average per catch," Hensley wrote. "The key, like their initial deals with the likes of Ryan Mallett, Will Hill and Terrance West, is giving a deal that has not much in guaranteed money. That makes it no risk and a tremendous reward."
Ravens Need To Fix Run Game
Running the football is part of the Ravens' identity, and Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged during the season-review press conference that the offense strayed from that identity at times last year.
Baltimore ran the ball a franchise-low 383 times during the season, and the offense finished the year ranked 26th in the league with 92.4 rushing yards per game.
"For all the focus on the Ravens' lack of playmakers on offense and defense, one of the offseason priorities has to be fixing the running game," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Remember all that talk before the 2015 season about how that was supposed to be the team's strength?"
The Ravens will retain most pieces of their running game going into next season. Starting running back Justin Forsett will return from a broken arm and Buck Allen showed he could carry the load when needed.
The Ravens will also get most of the offensive line back, as the only free agent is left guard/left tackle Kelechi Osemele. Having left tackle Eugene Monroe healthy – assuming he returns – and getting starting center Jeremy Zuttah back in the lineup will also make a difference for the group.
Getting those players healthy is a key piece of the equation, but Zrebiec says the offensive line also needs to play better when the group is full strength.
"Sure, injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe*and center Jeremy Zuttah *hurt, but the Ravens talked up their offensive line depth all preseason, so they can't be used as an excuse," Zrebeic wrote.
Expect Wagner, J. Smith To Have 'Really Good Seasons'
Part of the issue with the offensive line last year, Zrebiec said, is that right tackle Rick Wagner struggled early in the year as he recovered from lisfranc foot surgery.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith had the same injury, and he admitted after the season that the lengthy recovery had a "huge" impact on his performance early in the year.
Smith and Wagner will both come into next year fully healthy more than a year removed from their surgeries, and Zrebiec expects that to make a significant difference for them.
"Those are extremely difficult injuries to come back from, and neither player looked like himself until late in the year," Zrebiec wrote. "The bet here is that both have really good seasons next year if they stay healthy."
Smith Sends His Congrats
If you had any question about how Steve Smith Sr. felt about his former team making the Super Bowl, this tweet should help answer that.
Smith sent his congratulations to the Panthers Monday morning after they punched their ticket to Super Bowl 50. It will be Carolina's first Super Bowl trip since 2005, when Smith was the team's leading receiver.
Smith played 13 seasons in Carolina before joining the Ravens in 2014, and his family still lives in Charlotte. Smith is one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, and he has maintained close relationships with players in the Panthers' locker room.
Y'all don't understand how hyped I am for Tyrod....great example of grinding and staying patient — Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) January 25, 2016