The upheaval of the Ravens’ wide receiver room has begun. On Wednesday night, the team announced that it had reached agreements with two pass-catchers: former Cardinals burner John Brown and former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant. However, as the new league year officially began on Thursday afternoon, a surprising turn of events left Grant’s contract null and void. The 6’0” wideout failed his physical with the Ravens because of an ankle injury that doctors later revealed was suffered in the final week of the regular season. Interestingly enough, though, this may have proven to be a blessing-in-disguise for the Ravens (and some fans even believe the results were calculated, but more on that later).
The signing of John Brown is simple enough; it makes sense. The Ravens were looking to get faster on offense, improving their big-play ability while finding more reliable targets for Joe Flacco. When healthy, Brown is a home-run hitter. As Newsome claims, he can run the entire route-tree efficiently and can track down a deep pass well. The key for Brown, as it has been for many receivers, is to stay healthy, which is why he was seeking a 1 year “prove it” deal at $5M. Brown is a boom-or-bust signing with the potential to oust former 1st-round pick Breshad Perriman as the primary deep-threat on the current roster. The talent is there, as Brown is 2 years removed from a 1,000-yard, 7 touchdown season. The main question will be whether or not he stays on the field enough to replicate those numbers.
The controversial signing is Ryan Grant. Despite Grant’s strong hands and impressive route-running ability, the Ravens would have inked him to a shockingly pricey contract at 4 years for $29M. Many questioned whether the cost matched the productivity. For instance, Grant has never had a 100-yard receiving game in his career, and he failed to significantly impact a Redskins offense that needs wide receivers itself. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, fans criticize owner Steve Bisciotti, citing his prediction that the franchise would “make a splash” in free agency. So far, after whiffing on high-profile receiver Allen Robinson and even the mediocre Donte Moncrief and Marqise Lee, Ozzie Newsome has failed to do so. Still, Ryan Grant would have provided a young, controllable receiver that would have acted as a building block for Baltimore’s new offense. While most critics looked at Grant’s contract and believed that he was meant to be the new #1 receiver, this was not the case. Rather, Grant would have likely been a secondary receiver, with reliable hands to help move the chains. The Ravens were not done, and Newsome supported this at Friday morning’s press conference by stating that the Ravens would have continued to pursue receivers after signing Grant.
Now, here’s where the previously-mentioned blessing-in-disguise comes into play. On Thursday afternoon, the Oakland Raiders signed former Green Bay Packer receiver Jordy Nelson and subsequently cut wideout Michael Crabtree. From the get-go, Crabtree – who has since stated that he grew up a Ravens fan – was linked to Baltimore, and he quickly scheduled a meeting with the team. On Friday, the two sides committed to a 3 year, $21M deal, noticeably more favorable than the one they gave to Grant. Even though Crabtree is slightly older than Grant, he is equally reliable and provides a more daunting red-zone target (Crabtree caught 25 touchdowns in his 3 years in Oakland). The Ravens will hope that Crabtree will replicate these statistics in Baltimore, where he’s had success in the past. Crabtree has caught 4 touchdowns in their last 2 meetings, including a game-winner in the back of the end zone in 2016.
The main reason that Crabtree’s signing is so beneficial for Baltimore, though, is that it gives the team considerable flexibility moving forward. While Grant’s contract may have left Baltimore with room to make 1 last signing, Crabtree’s likely means that the Ravens could add 2 more players. One of these targets appears to be another cap-casualty, former Lions TE Eric Ebron. A strictly pass-catching tight end, Ebron could be a dynamic target over the middle of the field and provide explosiveness that the Ravens have severely lacked at the position. He currently has visits to three other teams lined up, though, so Baltimore will have to make an enticing offer for him to don purple next year. While it is also entirely possible that Newsome decides to add to the offensive line with the remainder of the team’s cap, I will stick – for the sake of this blog’s title – to name offensive players that team brass could be interested in.
The most obvious choice is Mike Wallace. The 31-year-old has garnered little excitement thus far, and as a result, his price could drop right into the Ravens’ range. What’s more, Wallace has already established a rapport with Flacco, meaning his fit in the offense would be seamless. Pairing Wallace with Crabtree, Brown, and a draft pick would give the Ravens an interesting group.
Another option is former Brown and Redskin Terrelle Pryor. One year removed from a breakout season, Pryor bet on himself with a one year deal in Washington only to watch himself lose snaps to guys like, well, Ryan Grant. While a reunion with Cleveland appears imminent, Pryor would give the Ravens a potentially dominant outside receiver opposite Crabtree.
At tight end, Baltimore’s options are somewhat limited, but Martellus Bennett and Julius Thomas are intriguing options. Both have had up and down careers, but when used frequently have put up impressive numbers. Flacco loves to throw to tight ends, it’s quite possible that he could get the best out of them.
Baltimore is likely to make at least one more move to improve the offense before the 2018 NFL Draft, it’s only a matter of whether or not that player is at wide receiver or tight end. Regardless, by adding speedster John Brown and Anquan Boldin-esque receiver Michael Crabtree, the Ravens have started their revamp nicely. If the rest of the offseason is handled well, the purple and black could find themselves back in contention next winter.