Examining What Comes Next on Ravens’ To-Do List
The Ravens have added a pair of wide receivers in Michael Crabtree and John Brown.
They’ve re-signed offensive lineman James Hurst and defensive end Brent Urban, and picked up cornerback Brandon Carr’s second-year option.
With about $10 million to work with under the salary cap, General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated Friday that he has two or three “quality” signings left in the tank.
So, what’s next on their offseason to-do list?
The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec looked at the team’s five biggest needs and free-agent options to fill them. You should give the whole thing a read, but I’ll highlight some of his analysis below.
1. Tight end
Newsome said Friday that the Ravens have been in talks with tight ends. That’s plural. With Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams the only tight ends on the roster currently, and both suited more for blocking, Newsome specifically said the Ravens want a pass catcher at the position.
Eric Ebron, who was cut by the Detroit Lions, seemed like the best fit, but he signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts Monday night after his visit.
Zrebiec also pointed to Julius Thomas, Luke Wilson and a possible reunion with Benjamin Watson.
ESPN believes the Ravens could target veteran Martellus Bennett. Bennett, 31, may be the best tight end available as he’s just one year removed from posting 55 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns in New England.
He comes with plenty of question marks, however, after a tough and bizarre 2017 season. Midway through the year, he announced his retirement, but didn’t actually retire. The Green Bay Packers released him and he bounced back to the Patriots.
If the Ravens don’t roll the dice with a veteran pass-catching tight end, they may just turn to the draft.
“Now, what's Plan D for the Ravens in their search for a pass-catching tight end?” ESPN asked. “Perhaps D stands for draft.”
2. Offensive line
Zrebiec puts offensive line ahead of wide receiver on the pecking order. The Ravens got Hurst back but cut Austin Howard and watched Ryan Jensen get the NFL’s richest contract for a center from Tampa Bay. The Ravens could still have their starting five with Ronnie Stanley, Hurst, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis. But, as Zrebiec pointed out, Skura is a question mark and Lewis and Hurst may both be best suited for guard.
“Because they have some depth, which includes last year’s draft picks, Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor, the Ravens don’t figure to spend any significant money in free agency on another offensive lineman. What they’ll likely do is add a cheap veteran to come in and compete for a job in training camp. They also will almost certainly address either the tackle or center position, if not both, in the draft. The Ravens have also discussed re-signing Crockett Gillmore, who is converting from tight end to the offensive line.
3. Wide receiver
Crabtree and Brown aren’t enough. “That the Ravens have already signed two wide receivers and that the position is still on this list is telling to some of the problems the team has had here,” Zrebiec wrote. Potential fits at this point include bringing back Mike Wallace and/or Michael Campanaro, or adding Dontrelle Inman or Kendall Wright.
“Whether the Ravens sign an additional free-agent receiver will probably say a lot about the organization’s evaluation of its young receivers, a group that includes Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo. If the Ravens feel that they can rely on two or three of those guys, they’ll likely just wait until the draft.”
Zrebiec’s other two positions are inside linebacker/hybrid safety and backup quarterback. Check out his full story here.
Arguments Being Made for Bringing Mike Wallace Back
Newsome was clear about his intention to change the faces in the Ravens’ receiver room.
But at the end of the day, might the best strategy given the circumstances be to bring back a familiar one in Wallace?
As Newsome said, he hasn’t closed the door to the idea. And Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber and Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler both think it would be the right move.
“I do like the idea of Mike returning to Baltimore, but I am also a hopeless romantic in the regard of the Ravens developing a wide receiver,” Barber wrote.
As Zrebiec also noted, it could come down to how much the Ravens want to lean on some of their younger receivers and the draft to supplement Crabtree and Brown.
Wallace has led the Ravens in receiving yards each of his two seasons in Baltimore. He went from 1,017 to 748 last season, but all the receivers’ stats were depressed last year. Wallace started to come on down the stretch after a brutal start.
While having new targets is good because turnover was needed, Wallace has shown chemistry with Flacco.
“There is a real chemistry there,” Schisler wrote. “Wallace has been a good teammate, and he can be a valued member of the locker room. Put simply, Wallace has a home in Baltimore, and the team has seemingly grown fond of him. Finally, I think the presence of more talent in the offense could make Wallace a sneakily good weapon.”
Detailed Film Breakdown of Michael Crabtree
Crabtree said he feels like he’s still 25 years old. Does he play like it?
Russell Street Report’s film buff Ken McKusick broke down every single play Crabtree was targeted on in 2017 to get a better idea of where he is at this point of his career (well done, Ken).
His final prediction is 70 catches for approximately 800 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.
Below are five of his takeaways, and be sure to read the whole thing for yourself:
- “Crabtree lacks the speed for vertical explosiveness. He can make up for that with deceptive route running and understands how to manipulate the opposing corner.”
- “He uses his physicality to get separation and is occasionally flagged for it. Given the way NFL games are called today, Crabtree will win most of those flag exchanges on jump balls.”
- “One thing I liked was how he continually worked to get open on extended plays. [Derek Carr](https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/CarrDe02.htm?utmcampaign=Linker&utmsource=direct&utm_medium=linker- "Derek Carr") is elusive, so the Raiders had a number of such slow-developing drop backs. A fair number of Crabtree’s targets came on such plays. The 2017 Ravens had a frustrating year for receivers not working or adjusting past a three-second route. Ad-libbing in this manner can cause route spacing issues, but the advantages of doing so are significant.”
- “Perhaps Crabtree’s greatest asset is his ability to use double moves and the respect/space provided by opposing corners. From anywhere on the field he was successful with both back shoulder throws on the sideline and double moves to get by outside corners. In the red zone, he was targeted infrequently on the inside, but he was effective with both fades and curls/outs to the pylon. These are both routes Flacco has thrown successfully in the past and it’s reasonable to expect Crabtree will be a major component of the 2018 Ravens red-zone offense.”
- “In 2017 he had 74 of 101 targets outside the numbers. It’s not hard to imagine Flacco and Crabtree having a natural chemistry on the 8-to-10-yard back shoulder throws on the sideline. Those plays were Flacco’s bread and butter in his first years with [Derrick Mason](https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/M/MasoDe00.htm?utmcampaign=Linker&utmsource=direct&utm_medium=linker- "Derrick Mason"). Both Flacco’s arm strength and Crabtree’s continued success manipulating opposing corners could contribute to better results than he had in Oakland this past season.”
John Brown Says Cyst Was the Problem, Not Sickle Cell
Brown’s biggest year came in 2015 when he put up 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns with the Arizona Cardinals. The past two seasons, however, have been a struggle to stay healthy.
It was October of 2016 when Brown was diagnosed with the sickle cell trait, which can lead to muscle issues when doing intense exercise.
However, Brown says the blame goes to a cyst discovered on his spine more than the sickle cell trait, which was so painful that he struggled to pick up his daughter, reports ESPN.
"It was just something we couldn't decide on or what they could find," Brown said during his press conference last week. "So, they just used it as a 'sickle cell trait' until they found I had a cyst in my spine. I'm fine; I'm healthy, and I know how to handle the situation."
The Ravens will cross their fingers that it remains that way. Last August, former Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said Brown’s sickle cell was still a concern, even after he had the cyst drained.
"That's a fact," Arians said. "Some guys are slow healers, some guys are fast healers."
- Torrey Smith continues to give back to Baltimore despite now being on his third team (Carolina Panthers) since leaving the Ravens following the 2014 season. [The Undefeated]