Two former Ravens offensive players spoke out this week about why they decided to leave Baltimore for new opportunities elsewhere via free agency, and both pointed to their lack of roles in the offense.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk (San Francisco 49ers) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (Indianapolis Colts) said in separate interviews that they believe they could have contributed more, but weren't getting enough opportunity in Baltimore.
It's not surprising to hear Aiken and Juszczyk say they wanted more action. That's what every player says, and Ravens coaches have said in the past there's something wrong if players aren't clamoring for the ball. But there are only so many snaps to go around when everyone is healthy.
Let's look at each player's reaction individually …
Juszczyk: Hearing 'Offensive Weapon' Was Music To My Ears
Let's be real here for a second.
OF COURSE, the four-year contract for a reported $21 million was a major reason behind Juszczyk's departure. At an average value of $5.25 million a year, that's more than double the next-highest fullback deal (Cincinnati's Ryan Hewitt, $2.5 million a year).
The Ravens couldn't afford that deal for a guy that carried the ball seven times in his four-year career. Even Juszczyk and his agent were a little taken aback by the money, and it's been a running joke that his last name should now be pronounced "YUGE-check."
Juszczyk said the YUGE-check made it an "easy" decision.
But, the money he got symbolized what San Francisco foresees with Juszczyk's bigger role in its offense.
"During our press conference, [General Manager] John Lynch referred to me as an 'offensive weapon' and said that, 'He's not your typical fullback.' Honestly, that was music to my ears," Juszczyk told the BmoreOpinionated Podcast with Jason La Canfora and Jerry Coleman.
"That's everything I've wanted to hear these last couple of years just because I feel like that label as a fullback almost holds you back a little bit. It pins you into a certain type of player. I feel like to some degree people kind of look down on it because the whole, 'Fullbacks are extinct. How many teams in the NFL even use a fullback nowadays?' But it's not necessarily the only position that I've played on offense. To kind of get rid of that label really means a lot and plays into my game."
Juszczyk said he had conversations with his four different coordinators and Head Coach John Harbaugh about his role. He said they all agreed that he could be used as more than a traditional fullback, and at times that happened.
He was used on special teams, in third-down protections as a halfback on offense and split out or lined up in the wing. He caught 78 passes over the past two seasons. But Juszczyk said that only happened in a couple games here and there, and it "never came to full fruition."
The other alluring factor for Juszczyk was playing under 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, who runs a very similar scheme to that of former Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. Playing for and coaching with Shanahan's father, Mike, means Kubiak and Shanahan come from the same coaching tree.
"Every player wants to be utilized to their full potential, and I feel like when I was with Coach Kubiak that was something that I got to experience," Juszczyk said.
"I thought that maybe at least one more time before I retired, I'd get a shot to play with Kubiak again, but when he retired, that kind of seemed like that was all up in the air and that wasn't going to happen. But then this opportunity rolled around with Coach Shanahan. I mean, really, it's kind of like the same thing. It's a very similar offense and I think this is my opportunity again to be fully utilized."
La Canfora hypothetically asked if the Ravens had offered him $2.5 or $3 million heading into his 2016 contract year, would he have taken it. After all, it would have been top dollar for a fullback.
"My agent and I joke about that all the time now," Juszczyk said. "I don't know for sure if I would have taken it because I do like when players bet on themselves and believe in their potential and what they can do. But I also can't say for sure that I wouldn't have taken it because that's a lot of money and, at the time,* *the fullback market is not much more than that.
"I didn't really know exactly what I was going to get when I did hit free agency, but good thing I did let it play out because things really worked out the best."
Aiken: I Don't Think I Was Ever A Priority
It's not surprising that Aiken was frustrated with his role in the Ravens offense after he went from 127 targets in 2015 to 50 last season. He was clear about that at the end of the season, and reiterated it in a Sirius XM radio interview and his introductory press conference Wednesday.
Aiken told Indianapolis media that he was promised by Colts General Manager Chris Ballard that he'll have the opportunity to compete for serious playing time. He believes Ballard will keep his word.
"I've never had that in my career since I've been in the league, to be honest," Aiken said, per Indystar.com. "A lot of times teams will tell you, 'Yeah, it's competition,' and it really isn't competition.
"I believe what [Ballard] said, it's going to be a competition and the best guys will play. I think that's good for the whole room in general. It's going to bring everybody's play up."
The competition for meaningful playing time is expected to be intense with other receivers on the roster like T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Chester Rogers.
At this point, that appears to be more competition than he'd have in Baltimore, but Aiken doesn't believe he'd get a real shot in the current offense despite breaking out in 2015, when he led the team with 75 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns.
Aiken said the opportunities were just never given to him in Baltimore unless there were injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart.
"It was definitely frustrating because I felt like I did enough to at least have the opportunity to build off of what I did the year before," Aiken said, per Fox 59 in Indianapolis. "But I really didn't have that. My role was dropped back on the depth chart and then basically special teams.
"There was nothing that I was doing to say, 'Well, he's not doing this well. He's not doing that well.' That's just what it was. I just got in there Week 1, and the next thing you know, I look at the depth chart and now I'm back [down] the depth chart.''
The signing of Mike Wallace and returns of Steve Smith Sr. (Achilles) and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who missed his entire rookie season (knee injuries), pushed Aiken down the depth chart.
Ryan Jensen Feels '100 Percent Prepared' To Start At Center
After trading veteran Jeremy Zuttah to the 49ers last week, the Ravens are in search of a new starting center.
One player already on the team, Ryan Jensen, would love that opportunity if called upon.
"To me, I feel 100 percent prepared if that ends up being the case," Jensen told Glenn Clark Radio, per Press Box.
"It's what we work for. We work to become that guy and everything. To me, being kind of a backup for the last four years essentially, you learn a lot of things from veteran guys like Jeremy and [guard] Marshal [Yanda] and all those guys. You learn how to be a pro and all that."
The Ravens want to get bigger and stronger across the offensive line, but the 6-foot-4, 310-pound interior lineman has a similar build to the 6-4, 300-pound Zuttah. That said, he is somebody who has worked with quarterback Joe Flacco and has been groomed in the Ravens system, although he's mostly worked at guard.
Jensen, 25, was a 2013 sixth-round draft pick out of Colorado State-Pueblo and has played in just 19 games, starting nine, during his four years in Baltimore. The Ravens placed an original-round tender on Jensen, a restricted free agent, earlier this month.
"Being with Joe and snapping the ball the past four years, whether it be [at organized team activities] or during practice or the preseason, we know how the snap's going to go and where his hands are going to be," Jensen said. "That's a big part of it, is … different quarterbacks have different hand position when they're under center. With being with him the last four years and snapping to him, it's not too big of a worry to me."
Not Everyone Is Buying Mel Kiper's Latest Mock Draft
ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper opened some eyes in Baltimore Wednesday with his updated mock draft because he has the Ravens using their first-round pick on an offensive tackle for the second year in a row.
Kiper has the Ravens getting perhaps the best offensive tackle in Wisconsin's Ryan Ramczyk.
It's not that people have an issue with Ramczyk, or that Kiper is filling a need at right tackle after Rick Wagner left via free agency. The gripe has more to do with who Kiper is passing over to pick Ramczyk.
"[T]he growing consensus has been the Ravens will take a wide receiver, cornerback or pass rusher with their first-round pick," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Kiper links Baltimore to Ramczyk even though there are a handful of playmakers – wide receivers Corey Davis and John Ross, pass rushers Charles Harris and Derek Barnett and running back Dalvin Cook – still on the board.
"While the selection of Ramczyk will raise eyebrows, there is logic behind it. Coach John Harbaugh said at the end of the season the team needed 'to build a great offensive line,' and the Cowboys and Raiders showed the power of being strong up front. The other factor is there aren't many quality offensive tackles in this draft, so the thinking is teams that need one should get one as early as possible."