Wide Receiver Market Goes Bananas, Pricing Ravens Out of Top Options
The last 24 hours were a money-grabbing blur.
Technically the new league year hasn't even begun, but that didn't stop NFL wide receivers from getting paaaaaaaaaid.
Some would argue they were overpaid – even one of the Ravens' wide receiver signings (more below).
"Somebody needs to cut off the wide receiver market and call it a cab," wrote ProFootballTalk.com's (PFT) Darin Gantt. "[T]he market for pass-catchers has gone bananas today, with players coming off injury or with middling statistics getting lucrative deals."
Mike Evans: 5 years, $82.5 million ($16.5 million average) from Tampa Bay (signed Friday)
Sammy Watkins: 3 years, $48 million ($16 million average) from Kansas City
Allen Robinson: 3 years, $42 million ($14 million average) from Chicago
Marquise Lee: 4 years, $38 million ($9.5 million average) from Jacksonville
Paul Richardson: 5 years, $40 million ($8 million average) from Washington
Albert Wilson: 3 years, $24 million ($8 million average) from Miami
Ryan Grant: 4 years, $29 million ($7.25 million average) from Baltimore
Watkins has never caught more than 65 passes in a single season, and still got top-of-market money. Robinson is coming off a torn ACL and got top-10 money in terms of annual average. Lee ranked No. 57 last year with 56 catches, and Wilson and Richardson were only around the 40-catch range. We'll discuss Grant in more detail below.
Of course, none of these deals are official until contracts can be signed when free agency opens today at 4 p.m. Barring some unforeseen change of heart, they're expected to go through.
"In an effort to get help for quarterback Joe Flacco and change the look of their receiving corps, the Ravens had their sights on several options, but the cash-strapped team learned quickly that it would be priced out of the market for the top pass catchers," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
It's not known to what extent, but Zrebiec said the Ravens were trying to get in on Robinson. Reports also linked the team to Wilson and Donte Moncrief (signed with Jacksonville for one year, $5 million). They were also reportedly pursuing tight end Jimmy Graham, who signed with the Green Bay Packers for $30 million over three years.
Ravens fans screamed in agony louder and louder each time a new deal was announced and another pass catcher was taken off the market. But we don't know what they offered, and it's hard to argue that the cash-strapped Ravens should've mortgaged their future by restructuring contracts to get players with a concerning injury history and/or mediocre production.
"The criticism that the Ravens should have used the money on the two receivers they signed and just put it toward wideout Allen Robinson ignores the fact that the team was indeed in on Robinson," wrote Zrebiec. "I don't know what the Ravens' offer was or how close they got, but they were clearly interested."
Who Is Ryan Grant? Did Ravens Overpay?
They are both young under-the-radar ascending players who the Ravens hope he will break out in Baltimore. The signings are a different strategy than the Ravens have employed in the past, when they would gave similar moderate deals to veterans closer to the end of their prolific careers.
Brown reportedly got a "prove-it" one-year deal for $5 million (up to $6.5 million if incentives are met) that made sense to many. What didn't make as much sense to outsiders was the $29 million deal the Ravens gave to Grant over four years, with $14.5 million guaranteed and a $10 million signing bonus, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Perhaps there are details to the deal that will clarify the confusion, but critics point to Grant's low production as a problem. He's never notched a 100-yard game, and only has a combined 84 receptions for 985 yards and six touchdowns over his four-year NFL career.
If the total value of the deal is accurate, PFT points out that's about $345,238 per career reception.
"Is that production worthy of one of the richest wide receiver contracts in team history?" asked WNST's Luke Jones. "Of course, that's not exactly an extensive list of deals as the Ravens have historically been very thrifty at the position, but this was an organization lacking salary-cap space, making the Grant signing even more puzzling."
You'll be hard-pressed to hear a single negative word about Grant come out of Washington. As you can see from running back Chris Thompson's tweet above, teammates rave about him.
The 6-foot-0, 204-pounder is known for his excellent hands and strong route-running ability. He worked his way up to be the No. 3 receiver for the Redskins last year and started five of the team's final six games. Last year, he posted more than half of his career production, bursting onto the scene with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.
Why the uptick? Did the proverbial light just come on?
"I wouldn't necessarily say Grant had a light come on," Washington FanSided's Jacob Camenker said. "It was more so that he was finally given an opportunity to produce. When the team had Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Jordan Reed all on the field together in addition to Jamison Crowder, Grant simply never got an opportunity. He was the No. 4 receiver and was low in the pecking order for targets, which explains why he didn't produce much until this season.
"In 2017, Grant was given the opportunity and he did what he does well. He caught passes and used his route-running abilities to get open. Grant didn't have many explosive plays. He just ended up in the right place at the right time and was able to find space."
Camenker said he thought Grant might get a deal that paid him around $5 million a year instead of $7.25 million, but added that doesn't necessarily mean the new Ravens receiver won't live up to it.
While his price tag might be up for debate, it doesn't mean Baltimore could have afforded one of the other more expensive receivers that signed yesterday.
Grades for Brown, James Hurst Signings
ESPN handed out grades for the Ravens' first two signings of the week with offensive lineman James Hurst (four years, $17.5 million) and Brown.
Brown = C-plus
"This is an underwhelming addition for a team that desperately needs proven playmakers. … The Ravens get a wide receiver who has deep speed and a willingness to go over the middle. Brown can be a productive receiver – he produced 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015 – if he can stay healthy. But that's a major question mark. … Brown has also been diagnosed with sickle-cell trait, which he said slows his healing and recovery process. So, there are long-term injury concerns."
Hurst = B-minus"It's a solid signing at a slightly higher cost than expected. … The only risk is if Hurst's deal limits what the Ravens can do in upgrading at wide receiver or tight end. The return of Hurst solidifies an offensive line that went through a lot of injuries. He's also dependable and durable. Hurst hasn't missed a game in his four-year career."
Ravens Aggressively Pursuing Jordy Nelson, But He's Scheduled to Visit Raiders
Just because the Ravens signed two receivers yesterday doesn't mean they're done adding pieces to the position.
After the Green Bay Packers released receiver Jordy Nelson to save about $10 million in cap space, the Ravens were quickly rumored to be in the hunt for the former Pro Bowler.
A bidding war would be a scary thought for the Ravens, who opened a bit of cap space yesterday (see below) but still don't have a lot to offer. He will have a "robust" market, says CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.
Nelson will reportedly meet with the Oakland Raiders first. If they sign Nelson, it would seem they might opt to cut Michael Crabtree, who was already rumored to be a potential cap casualty.
Danny Woodhead Could Still Return; Ravens Create $9 Million in Cap Space
In an effort to create more salary-cap space, the Ravens either cut players or didn't pick up the 2018 option for another.
After releasing cornerback Lardarius Webb Monday, Baltimore followed up yesterday by cutting running back Danny Woodhead, who they signed to a three-year deal last offseason.
"The two sides discussed an altered 2018 contract, but couldn't agree to a deal," Zrebiec wrote. "It's not impossible Woodhead returns to the team at some point later in the offseason."
Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 that knocked him out of eight games. By the time he returned, Alex Collins and Buck Allen had emerged.
The Ravens also declined the 2018 option for right tackle Austin Howard, which wasn't surprising after they signed Hurst to a long-term deal.
Decision on Jeremy Maclin Must Be Made by Friday
One person that is rumored to still be a potential cap casualty is wide receiver Jeremy Maclin.
The Ravens will have to make a decision on whether to keep the 29-year-old receiver by Friday (the third day of the new league year) because that's when a $1 million bonus is due if he's still on the team, according to Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland.
If Baltimore decides to part ways with Maclin, it would create $5 million in cap space.
"Expectations remain that he won't return, and the Ravens certainly can use the salary-cap space," wrote Zrebiec.
Brandon Carr Staying Because He 'Stabilized a Long-Problematic' No. 2 CB Spot
The Ravens could've gained another $4 million in cap space had they chosen not to pick up the 2018 option on veteran cornerback Brandon Carr's contract.
But with plenty of uncertainty at the position with Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young coming off serious injuries, and the lack of experience elsewhere, the move was viewed as wise.
"Carr did pretty much what the Ravens had hoped when they signed the veteran to a four-year, $24 million deal last March. He stabilized the team's long-problematic No. 2 cornerback spot across from Jimmy Smith," wrote Zrebiec. "He continued his remarkable run of durability and he became a leader in the secondary.
"Thus, it's hardly surprising that the Ravens [kept him], even with their tight salary cap situation and their need to make additions on the offensive side of the ball."
- "It was pretty quiet on the front yesterday, but I can't imagine he'll be available for much longer today. I still would be surprised if he stays with the Ravens, though I learned last year with defensive tackle Brandon Williams never to rule anything out," wrote Zrebiec. "The Jets have plenty of money and still need a center, so maybe that's Jensen's best play." [The Baltimore Sun]