The year is 2018. The Ravens are coming off of a disappointing 2017 campaign in which they ended at 9-7, barely missing the playoffs. A year that was a rollercoaster on offense, with Joe Flacco and Co. struggling through the first half, and then coming alive to be the second highest scoring team in the NFL through the second half. A year in which the defense looked electric at times, pitching 3 shutouts, but ultimately failing on a 4th-and-12 play to Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd, costing Baltimore a playoff spot for a third straight season. A year in which politics reared its ugly head in our beloved sport, and the fanbase was at odds with each other.
Now, it is March. Free Agency is upon us. Per usual, the Ravens are strapped for cash, causing us to rely on our cap geniuses to dig us out of a hole, so we can fill voids on both sides of the ball.. but mostly on offense, which is a wasteland devoid of talent. Now is the time where you will see a large portion of the fanbase either screaming to sign Player A or Player B, or lamenting because said player went to another team. This won’t be an article laying out the available free agents. This is merely one man’s opinion of the current state of the Ravens fanbase.
Much like any other season, some big name free agents have come available, many of whom are at the wide receiver position – an area where the Ravens boast BIG names such as Chris Moore, Tim White, and DeVier Posey. Oh.. you’re not familiar with those names? Neither is anybody else. So, it would make sense that the Ravens fans would be salivating at names like Jarvis Landry, who’s had more catches in his first four years than any player in NFL history. Or Allen Robinson, who has had flashes of a high ceiling, with a season in which he cracked 1,400 receiving yards and 14 TDs. Names like Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin create images in their heads of potential ceilings and deep passes from Flacco. This will bring me to my first point. A reality check, if you will.
Let’s begin with Jarvis Landry, who was the only name that sprung any interest in my mind. 400 receptions for over 4,000 yards and 22 TDs in his young career, playing on an offense that has been mediocre at best. He boasts a nice 70% catch rate, and averages an okay 64 yards per game. He can play underneath, and likes to bully corners in the league, which many thought would be a great match for Flacco, who likes to check down.. a lot. And to be fair, it would have been. However, here is the reality check. He was franchised tagged, which would give him a $16 million price tag, a number that would have to be heavily lowered for him to be affordable in Baltimore. He ended up getting traded to Cleveland, who has an entire league’s worth of cap space, and fans were disappointed, to say the least. The calls for Ozzie’s head began, ignoring the fact that we had (at the time) around $5 million in cap space. Ignoring the fact that we would have had to pay almost as much per year for a glorified slot receiver as the Steelers do for Antonio Brown. Ignoring the fact that we would’ve had to mortgage the future to retain him. Instead, it was Ozzie’s fault.
Next, we will look at both Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, two other ‘top-tier’ wide receivers that hit the open market. In this case, their respective teams (Jacksonville and the Rams) decided to go in other directions with their franchise tags. You mean we wouldn’t have to trade coveted draft picks or players for them? Phenomenal! They would be perfect! Right? Nope.
Robinson is coming off of a 2017 that involved him for exactly one catch. Then, his ACL tore, and he would not be seen for the rest of the season. Still, Ravens fans would look back to 2015, which was his 1,400 yard season. Look at his production that year, they said! With Blake Bortles throwing to him! They would immediately forget about his 52% catch rate, or the fact that he had repeated trouble creating separation. They would immediately forget that out of his 4 year career, he’s only had 2 healthy seasons, and only one in which he would break 1,000 yards. They would forget that he has had issues with dropping catchable balls. They would see the name, see the void in Baltimore, and start making a case as to why we should sign him. Then, they would see him going to Chicago, for $14 million a year over 3 years. Another number two receiver getting paid like a number one in a sub-par offense. (Yes, I’m aware that our offense is sub-par as well. I’m getting to that.)
Watkins. Oh, Mr. Watkins. What potential you had. What speed, what hands. What athleticism. What happened to you, man? Injuries have played a big part of Sammy’s career, sure. But, even when he is on the field, he isn’t nearly as productive as his draft spot, or stock, would have led you to believe. He boasts a 55% catch rate, and has just over 3,000 yards in his four-year career, with 25 TDs. He’s only had one full season, back in 2014 – his rookie season. Since then, he’s been off the field more than he’s been on. He’s never broken a 60% catch rate, and he’s a risk every time his toes touch turf. But once again, Ravens fans ignored all of that in a cry to sign the man. Their dreams were dashed as the news broke that he intended to sign a 3 year, $48 million deal in Kansas City. Yes, that’s right. That’s $16 million a year. For the guy I described. For comparison, again, Antonio Brown makes $17 million a year.
I completely understand the mindset. We, as Ravens fans, want a true number one wide receiver. Something that we haven’t had in Baltimore in a long time. However, we, as Ravens fans, need to chill, because these 3 receivers are NOT number one wide receivers, not in the truest sense. These are slot guys, or guys that can’t stay on the field, and all are now overpaid. Realistically speaking, with our cap space, our scheme, and our needs, we’re just as well off signing a Taylor Gabriel (solid slot guy with steady hands, that can also boost the return game – goodbye Campanaro), or a Paul Richardson (speedy guy, steady hands, but has a bit of trouble staying healthy – EDIT: Richardson is going to Washington for $40 million over 5 years). Even Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, or John Brown would make more sense than any of the ‘big name’ guys, given our constraints.
The other side of things that people are not looking at, is Joe Flacco and the offensive scheme. The fans wanted Watkins because of his speed, but our offense doesn’t take chunks out of the field like they used to – or, when they do attempt it, Flacco has issues hitting receivers in stride. They wanted Robinson as an intermediate passing option, but he has trouble separating, and 2017 showed that Flacco continues to struggle with tight windows. They’ve forgotten that the past couple of years, we have morphed into a dump-off offense, with shades of West Coast mixed in. We have also been longing for explosiveness in an offense-based league for so long that we have forgotten that consistency will trump a single explosive player almost every time.
We have reached a point in our existence where we need to either attack the position through quantity and consistency, or it’s time for a rebuild. My message to the fanbase is that, until we greatly widen the cap constraints, and get out from under the contracts of Flacco, Suggs, and Jimmy, we will not be getting the splash signing that you are looking for. It’s time to calm down, let Ozzie do what he can in his final year, and hope for the best. It’s time to trust the process, instead of making snap judgments with no clear idea of what the front office is truly up against. It’s time to stop calling for people’s heads, especially when those heads have kept this organization competitive against some truly daunting odds. It’s time to stop calling for the release of every player based off of some obscure stat or another, and it’s time to chill. We are a winning organization. We are still above average. It’s time to settle down, and realize that fact. Be happy with a Terrelle Pryor and a Taylor Gabriel. Be happy with slight upgrades that can be followed up with in the draft, to create an offense on the rise. Because let’s be honest with ourselves, Flock.. we are not in a position where we can do a complete 180 in one off-season. It’s time to chill.