Hope Abounds After Needed Wide Receiver Changes
Hope springs eternal in the NFL offseason.
And there's plenty surrounding the Ravens receiver corps after General Manager Ozzie Newsome changed the faces of the unit from Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro to a handful of newcomers.
"As much as signs can be read in June — and they really can't — they are fairly positive so far," wrote Sporting News' David Steele after attending the first two weeks of open Organized Team Activity practices.
"The optimism is high because of the names added and, now, because they've had offseason time to work together. Again, it's also June."
Steele sees veteran additions Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV all "settling in" along with mid-round draft picks Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley. He also named former CFL Devier Posey.
Reports of quarterback Joe Flacco playing like he's in the best shape of his career with spiral after spiral filling the Owings Mills sky adds to the optimism.
Fans are hesitant to completely jump on board because there was excitement after hopeful reports last spring, but the Ravens offense ultimately ended with the league's fourth-worst ranked passing attack.
"Will Baltimore's 2018 wide receiver corps actually deliver, or will they flop like last season?" asked Russell Street Report's Logan Levy.
"Before the start of the 2017 season, many were speculating the trio of Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin would be the best wide receiver corps Flacco has ever had. Then the season unfolded. … Flashing forward to 2018, the narrative of this being the best receiving corps Flacco has ever had is, again, in the headlines."
Here's a tip: refrain from predicting in June who will be the best receiving corps during the Flacco era. It's one thing to report positive first impressions, and it's another to project early impressions into a historical context without a single regular-season snap being taken.
As coaches and players constantly preach, it's a process. The first steps are complete with Newsome delivering on his promise to remake the receiver unit, Flacco returning with a healthy back and knee, and the quarterback and receivers actually being able to practice together before the season starts.
"The Ravens were aggressive in free agency for a reason," wrote Steele. "The three receivers they brought in are shouldering a heavy load of high expectations and past shortcomings. As Newsome promised, the room had to change, and it has."
Lamar Jackson Contract Details
We learned yesterday that first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson is locked in for at least four years, plus the standard team-option fifth year, after signing his rookie contract.
Russell Street Report's Brian McFarland reported the details of the deal, and it's worth $9,471,649 with a $4,968,472 signing bonus.
"The four-year deal includes a fifth-year club option for the 2022 season, a factor that led Newsome to trade 2018 and 2019 second-round picks to Philadelphia to move up to the final pick of the first round to select Jackson and secure that extra year," added WNST's Luke Jones. "Only first-round picks carry a fifth-year team option with their rookie deals."
Rookie contracts are usually signed in reverse draft order, so the earlier picks often sign last. As such, that leaves only tight end Hayden Hurst to ink his deal with the Ravens. Hurst was drafted just seven spots ahead of Jackson, so the tight end's finalized contract shouldn't be far behind.
Both first-round picks have been hard at work as they transition to the NFL level.
"Despite much discussion and speculation about when Jackson might replace veteran Joe Flacco, Baltimore has made it clear that the latter remains the starter, a proclamation reinforced by the distribution of reps during spring workouts," Jones wrote. "The talented rookie from Louisville has often worked with young players on another field while Flacco and veteran backup Robert Griffin III have worked with the first- and second-team offenses during organized team activities."
Could the AFC North Crown a New Champion in 2018?
The folks at SB Nation ranked which divisions around the league are most likely to crown a new champion, and the AFC North came in at No. 7 among eight divisions.
Soooo, they don't have great confidence that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be knocked off their perch. That said, if anyone is going to do it, the website sees Baltimore as the biggest contender.
"Baltimore hasn't won the North since its Super Bowl-winning 2012 season," wrote Christian D'Andrea. "Yet with the exception of 2015, the Ravens have typically hung around the top of the division waiting to derail the Steelers. 2018 looks like no exception.
"… If they can jump-start the offense, they'll have a shot at dethroning a Pittsburgh team that should be strong as ever this fall. While losing right tackle Chris Hubbard in free agency hurts and Ryan Shazier's spinal injury leaves little depth at linebacker, the Steelers should be able to replicate last year's impressive season."