Ravens: Regardless of Potential Trade, Ravens Are A Better Team
There is a lot of hoopla in an NFL offseason. In the 2009 offseason, divas like Jay Cutler (Chicago) and Terrell Owens (Buffalo) found new homes. There were plenty of playoff teams close to getting the Super Bowl, like the Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, San Diego Chargers and others. The Baltimore Ravens had a tricky offseason ahead of them. Plenty of staters on the team like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Dawan Landry, Bart Scott, Matt Stover, Jason Brown, Sam Koch and Samari Rolle were hitting free agency.
The way it has unfolded, the Ravens have been able to keep five of those eight players. Ray Lewis signed a three year, $22M extension, Suggs was slapped with a franchise tag, Landry signed a second round tender, as did Koch, and Rolle agreed to a four year extension. Meanwhile, starting center Jason Brown signed a five year, $35M extension with the Rams, Scott agreed to terms with the Jets on a six year, $48M deal while Leonhard also signed on with the Jets on a contract worth $6M over two seasons. But this is just guys who played with the Baltimore Ravens last year. The Ravens made up for the loss of Brown by signing six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk to a three year, $12M contract.
Not only is Birk an experienced veteran who has blocked for Adrian Peterson the last two seasons, the Ravens will be spending $23M less than the Rams spent on Brown. Birk shores the Ravens up at center and whoever the Ravens future center is will get great tutelage from Birk for three years. So center is taken care of. However, that wasn't the main need going into the offseason. The two main positions the Ravens weren't very satisfying at during the 2008-09 season were cornerback and wide receiver. The Ravens had a dominant pass defense, but that was due to the constant havoc the defensive line applied to the quarterback. The Ravens had aging corners in Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister, and decided to release McAlister. The Ravens needed to get younger and faster. Throughout the year, Rolle started opposite Fabian Washington, the youngster acquired from the Oakland Raiders.
It was obvious Baltimore would pursue corners sometime during the draft. That was until the Ravens signed Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr to free agent contracts and brought back Samari Rolle to become the fourth cornerback. Foxworth, 25, appears to be the future Ravens cornerback and what's most encouraging now: comfort. Foxworth was a solid starting corner for the Broncos from 2005 to 2007, but was constantly compared to Champ Bailey, whom Foxworth calls "one of the best" to ever play corner. Foxworth says being compared to Bailey was reason for discomfort. After having three good seasons with the Broncos, Denver traded him to the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh round pick, oddly enough. Foxworth shined for the Falcons in 2008, compiling 38 tackles and one interception. There was also some discomfort there, as well, as he played safety, a position he'd never played before.
Atlanta, too, let him go and Baltimore jumped on him immediately. Foxworth is finally comfortable in Baltimore. Not only is he not drawing comparisons to anyone, he is coming back home. Foxworth attended the University of Maryland, which is approximately 35 minutes away from Baltimore. Before attending Maryland, Foxworth went to Western Tech High, which is roughly 15 minutes away from M&T Bank Stadium. Foxworth grew up rooting for the Ravens, and the team won a Super Bowl when Foxworth was 17 years old.
So, the Ravens handled their cornerback situation. A day into free agency, Baltimore made it clear they were not going to draft a cornerback in the first round. However, the Ravens lost starting safety/punt returner Jim Leonhard. The team needed a new return man. Baltimore, introduce yourself to Chris Carr. The free agent nickel back had 32 tackles and one interception last year for the Titans. The most important atribute about him is that he's an amazing return specialist. After having three stellar years with the Oakland Raiders in which he totaled 5,295 return yards (a Raiders franchise record), he hit free agency and signed with the Titans. In 2007, the Titans ranked 27th in the NFL in return yards. In 2008, with Carr, the Titans ranked first. On top of that, Carr is 25 years old, younger than Leonhard.
The Ravens would also have to get some tight end depth. Quinn Sypniewski is a capable back up, but has tons of injury troubles. That's when the Ravens signed L.J. Smith to a one year deal. To put it nicely, L.J. Smith is a bad player. He was a productive tight end in 2005 and 2006, producing over 500 yards each season. However, injuries in 2007 and 2008 meant his downfall for the Philadelphia Eagles. In those seasons, he caught a combined 59 passes for 534 yards and four touchdowns, compiling a dreadful 9.1 yard per catch average. However, Smith won't be starting with the Ravens like he did with Philly. The main reason the Ravens brought him in is to help Todd Heap stay healthy. If Smith is in Baltimore, Heap has fewer opportunities to get injured.
That brings us to the potential Anquan Boldin trade. According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Ravens are the frontrunners to land Boldin in a trade. The expert expects Boldin to be a Raven next season. I'm not going to lie: I want this to happen. Who wouldn't want a 28-year old who averages 1,000 yards a season and breaks tackles nearly every play? However, if this doesn't happen, it's not the end of the world. First off, the Ravens will have the flexibility to re-sign Terrell Suggs this season, Haloti Ngata in two seasons and Jared Gaither after the 2009-10 campaign.
The Ravens have always had trouble drafting receivers. There is no hiding it. However, when the Ravens drafted wide receiver busts like Clarence Moore, Derek Abney and others, they didn't have a very legit quarterbacks. From 2000 to 2008, the Ravens have had six different leading passers. Among them were Tony Banks (2000), Elvis Grbac (2001), Jeff Blake (2002), Kyle Boller (2003-05, 2007), Steve McNair (2006) and Joe Flacco (2008). The Ravens now have a legit, strong-armed quarterback in Flacco who can make the receiver look good. Think of it this way: if we get Boldin, we get an amazing wide receiver to make Flacco look elite. If we don't get Boldin, we can get a younger receiver and also have the flexibility to lock up Suggs, Ngata and/or Gaither.
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