In last Friday’s State of the Ravens press conference, owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged the lack of playmakers on offense, suggesting that the Ravens will find the cash to “make a splash” in free agency, if the right situation presents itself. Interestingly enough, Bisciotti also mentioned that Kevin Byrne needed to remind him to remain wary of “tampering,” or contacting players who are still officially under contract. These comments sparked significant excitement about the team’s plans for this offseason, especially considering the number of needs on offense. However, two players have received the most attention in these rumors: TE Jimmy Graham and WR Jarvis Landry.
Bisciotti’s clear desire to address last year’s stagnant offense certainly hints towards an aggressive pursuit of these players. After all, both are elite players at their position and have a proven NFL track record; each would fill a significant hole. Landry, who is currently under contract with the Miami Dolphins, is a 3-time Pro Bowler and a reliable target in the middle of the field. He is explosive after the catch and would bring a new dimension to a Ravens offense that has lacked consistency for the past few seasons. He has garnered interest from Ravens fans since the offseason began, and it appears that he has caught the eye of Ozzie Newsome as well. It appears that Landry was on the block at the trade deadline this past season, with the Ravens one of the teams heavily involved in talks. If this is the case, it can be assumed that Baltimore continues to hold interest and could pounce in free agency.
Graham, who has spent the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, is a dominant pass-catching tight end, though his most impressive seasons were with the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Graham would also provide a reliable target over the middle of the field, particularly in the red-zone. In 2013, when Graham was a first-team All-Pro with the Saints, he caught an incredible 16 touchdowns, a nod toward his immense potential. Joe Flacco has held a strong rapport with multiple TEs in the past, namely Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and Benjamin Watson. For this reason, many believe that Baltimore is a logical landing spot for Graham. No question, he would be a welcome addition, a new safety blanket for Flacco.
Both players would fill immediate needs, and both would bring the offense closer to where it needs to be. If choosing between the two, the Ravens really can’t go wrong. So, who is more likely to be donning the purple and black in September? That, like most things these days, will come down to how much Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh value the player when compared to his price tag.
Jarvis Landry is the best receiver in free agency this offseason, and as such, he will demand a large salary. As of now, Landry is projected to land a 4-year, $58 million contract. This number, averaging $14.5 million a year would significantly restrict the Ravens. They would have to restructure at least one contract to make this happen, and any hope of resigning C Ryan Jensen or G James Hurst would be gone. Graham would present a cheaper option, perhaps cutting Landry’s number in half. Of course, this is only logical, as Graham is in the late stages of his prime at 31 years old and plays a position that is quite simply less expensive.
This brings us to the choice the Ravens should end up making this spring: signing TE Jimmy Graham. While Landry would provide more long-term cover, the team has too many holes to commit to his salary when a position of similar need has a free agent demanding nearly half as much money. Signing Graham will leave the Ravens more flexibility in free agency, allowing them to make one or two minor signings while still making a notable addition. More, as I have written about before, there are exciting prospects at both positions in this year’s NFL Draft. Baltimore could heavily address the WR corps there, while drafting one of the mid-round tight ends as an heir to Jimmy Graham.
Simply put, Jimmy Graham offers Baltimore the flexibility they need to address an offense that, at this point, resembles a block of swiss cheese. Though Jarvis Landry may better resemble the “splash” signing that Steve Bisciotti hinted at, one player will not fix a multitude of problems. The Ravens must be careful not to act rashly. Graham is a reliable, cheaper option who, especially in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense, should shine.