Should Ravens Follow the 'Rams-ification of the NFL' Trend?
The blockbuster trades that have been made this offseason lend credence to the adage about the NFL being a copycat league.
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio called the trend the "Rams-ification of the NFL."
The Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl in large part by trading draft picks for star players, an approach that was immortalized by General Manager Les Snead's "f--- them picks" T-shirt at the team's celebratory parade.
This offseason, four AFC teams have followed the Rams' lead. The Broncos, Browns, Raiders and Dolphins all gave up a boatload of draft picks to acquire a superstar quarterback or wide receiver.
What does this mean for the Ravens, an organization that highly values its draft picks, as they try to remain a viable Super Bowl contender?
Should they go "all in" by perhaps mortgaging their future rather than attempting to contend for a championship year in and year out by taking a more conservative approach?
Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann said he prefers the latter scenario.
"You could argue that the Ravens should consider themselves a 2022 contender and sell out the future for a shot at glory now, or you could agree with the notion that the Ravens like to 'take a bite of the apple' every year, get themselves into position to make it into the playoffs and then hope to get hot," McCann said. "Both arguments make sense, but I selfishly want the Ravens to be good every year and get hot every now and then and win a ring."
Our Ryan Mink said he doesn't envision General Manager Eric DeCosta trading away first-round picks, but that doesn't mean the Ravens won't be proactive in acquiring players who can help them win a championship.
So far this offseason, the Ravens signed safety Marcus Williams, offensive tackle Morgan Moses and defensive lineman Michael Piece in free agency; had a reported agreement in place with free-agent edge rusher Za'Darius Smith before he backed out; and re-signed fullback Patrick Ricard.
"But even with all the additions made so far, there are still holes left to fill," Mink wrote. "Baltimore is going to have to continue to stay aggressive to keep pace."
Another development this offseason that could become a trend is contending teams giving their franchise quarterbacks huge contract extensions but trading their No. 1 wide receivers, as the Packers and Chiefs have done.
"Mark Andrews is already under contract with the team through 2025, and the franchise has historically valued tight ends, so he should stay even if/when Jackson signs," McCann wrote. "But what happens to Marquise Brown down the line? Do they avoid signing that big-ticket receiver the fanbase screams for every year?
"If I'm the Ravens, I'm adding a receiver every year in the draft, either with a premium pick, or a later-round guy with through-the-roof potential. You might need to keep restocking the shelves if/when Jackson gets his bag in Baltimore."
Did Za'Darius Smith End Up Getting a Worse Deal With Vikings?
The reason Smith reportedly changed his mind about signing with the Ravens is that he saw fellow free-agent edge rushers Von Miller and Chandler Jones get deals that were significantly more lucrative.
After backing out of his agreement with the Ravens, which reportedly was for four years, $35 million ($8.75 million annual average salary) with a maximum value of $50 million, Smith's deal with the Minnesota Vikings is for three years and reportedly worth $42 million ($14 million AAV) with a maximum value of $47 million.
So it seems as if Smith's decision paid off. However, upon further review, that might not be the case, according to Florio.
"The details, as they often do, paint a different picture," wrote Florio, who revealed the specifics of the contract per a source with knowledge of the terms.
"It's really a one-year, $9.5 million contract, nearly a third of which is tied to Smith being able to play in every game," Florio wrote. "At the very best, it's a two-year, $22 million deal.
"The per-game roster bonuses are mammoth, and for good reason. A back injury limited Smith to only 18 snaps in 2021. The Vikings are protecting themselves against Smith potentially missing time. The final season, at $20 million, is fluff and puff, aimed at making the deal he signed in Minnesota look better than the one he didn't take in Baltimore."
Regardless of whether Smith cost himself money by not honoring his agreement with the Ravens, the fact remains that Baltimore still has a need for an edge rusher. However, it will probably give Ravens fans who are upset with Smith some measure of satisfaction.
Varying Opinions on Michael Pierce Signing
Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton named one offseason move every team could regret. For the Ravens, it was signing Pierce to a three-year deal for a reported $16.5 million.
"Over the past two years, Pierce has missed 25 games, opting out of the 2020 term and battling an elbow injury in 2021," Moton wrote. "At 29 years old, going on 30 in November, he'll likely play less than 50 percent of the defensive snaps at 6'0", 340 pounds. Typically, a player with his profile signs for a short-term deal.
"The Ravens need a big body on the defensive line as Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Ellis test free agency, but they should've signed Pierce to a one-year contract to see how his body holds up through a full term. He's a pay-as-you-go type of player at this stage in his career."
Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh has a vastly different opinion about Pierce returning to the team he played for from 2016-2019, saying the move "could be a low-key steal when all is said and done."
"Pierce isn't known as this elite pass rusher. But he's a lot better than people give him credit for," Panchwagh wrote. "Between him and Brandon Williams, Pierce was always the better pass rusher who could not only push the pocket, but had effective short-area quickness and footwork.
"Moreover, as a run-stuffer, you know what Pierce brings to the table as one of the better anchors in the game. Again, if Pierce is mentally and physically right, all of the upside is there for him to be a key cog against the run and provide interior pressure for the front. Being back in Baltimore playing under defensive line coach Anthony Weaver should bring out the best in him."
New Bears Assistant GM Wants to Follow Ravens' Blueprint for Success
Last month, 36-year-old Ian Cunningham became one of the highest-ranking African Americans in an NFL front office when he was hired as assistant general manager of the Bears.
Cunningham, who was with the Ravens from 2008-2016 as a player personnel assistant and area scout before joining the Philadelphia Eagles as director of college scouting and co-director of player personnel, credited Ravens Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome as playing a huge role in his success.
"The reason why I'm here is because of Ozzie," Cunningham said in an article on the Bears’ website. "I'd go into the office of Ozzie Newsome every single night and pick his brain as I'm putting magnets up. [I'd ask], 'Who'd you watch today?' Or just having conversations and learning: 'How do you evaluate talent? What do you see in this player?' Just learning as much as you could and soaking it in.
"And not just Ozzie, but you had Eric DeCosta, you had Joe Douglas that have come out of there and they're GMs. I was fortunate enough to be brought up in that. That's where I grew, that's where I cut my teeth."
Cunningham said he wants the Bears to operate like the Ravens when it comes to building their roster.
Bears GM Ryan Poles told The Athletic's Dan Pompeo that Cunningham leans toward the types of players the Ravens are known for acquiring — passionate players who want to be great and play with chips on their shoulders.
"They have to have the right makeup for the game, and that always sticks out to us," Poles said. "You want the guys you acquire, especially at the top of the draft or in free agency, to reflect the culture you are trying to build."