Sticking to Their Guns: The Ravens Off-Season
The off-season has been eventful enough for the Ravens. The team had several key departures through Free Agency, for example, Bart Scott and Jason Brown. They've had several big additions through Free Agency, including Matt Birk, Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr. But the big story, and it always is with the Ravens, was the draft.
Every NFL mock drafter from Mel Kiper to Joe Schmoe had Baltimore taking a WR in the first round. As a Ravens fan desperate for a passing game, I agreed. The mocks seemed to agree that Darrius Heyward-Bey was the godsend the Ravens were praying for.
On that point, I disagreed. I felt that the Ravens would trade up for Michael Crabtree, or trade away their first rounder for the likes of Anquan Boldin. It would be another coup for the great Ozzie. And I was half right.
The Ravens did trade up. For an offensive tackle. I was simultaneously in awe of and perplexed by the move. As I got my senses about me, comprehension dawned. Ozzie was sending a clear message.
The pieces are in place for another run at the Super Bowl. By solidifying a "solid" unit on the O-Line with a first class talent like Oher, who somehow fell past a number of units in need of O-Line help *cough* Cleveland *cough*, Ozzie is saying he'd be happy with the team as is when the season starts.
A new lineman gives Flacco a bodyguard on the line and upgrades the line to the point that in a year, maybe two, it could reach elite status among the league. As the saying goes, the game is won and lost in the trenches, and this ensures the offensive trench is as strong as ever.
The general perception is that Ozzie must feel like the main weakness of the team last year was on the line, and that everything will improve from there.
But a lot of Ravens fans would disagree, and have done so publicly. There is some downright outrage over the fact that the Ravens did not address the "obvious" need.
The lack of superstar talent at the wide receiver position has been nearly as well-documented as the need the team had at quarterback prior to last season.
And it is a fact that there is still not a superstar at the position to help a quarterback who's still developing. But it's also a fact that Ozzie is well known as a genius of personnel, drafts, and talent evaluation.
He has gone on record to say that he feels like the current core of wide receivers is more than qualified to help foster young Flacco's development as a QB.
Most Ravens fans' ire is drawn from the lack of a speed threat last year to complement Flacco's cannon (aka his arm). Ozzie believes that Demetrius Williams fills that need. I get the impression that Ozzie thinks he has very legitimate talent as a great all-round receiver.
His weakness is being frustratingly prone to injury, i.e. out half of last season. I'd say enough talent is there to be a legitimate No. 2 receiver, we'll just see if the extra rest helped his body get to a healthy place so he can be more durable.
This attitude from the front office has angered many fans who are tired of ineptitude in the passing game. And now that there seems to be a franchise passer in place, they want to see the team build around him.
The team did, just not how they thought it should be accomplished. The fans wanted to build through a young receiver, and Ozzie saw an opportunity to strengthen his team in the trenches he couldn't resist. Can't say I blame him.
That said the only real hole left for the team is the position of wide receiver. Every other position either has an established, talented veteran in place, or a young player with talent being developed. But at receiver the only established threat is Derrick Mason, and he’s not an elite talent anymore.
So what options are available to Ozzie to address this weakness? I'll lay them out:
- Stick to your guns: Demetrius Williams is a talented wide receiver capable of big things. But if he gets hurt, there's not any other polished speed threats left on the roster
- Make Big things happen: Go out and get one of the two premier talents available on the trade market: Anquan Boldin or Braylon Edwards. Braylon will probably not be traded to Baltimore simply because Browns fans will never forgive the team if he's traded within the division. Anquan's trade price tag is steep, but bearable. His contract demands for a new contract, probably less so for a team running close to the salary cap. These could happen potentially, but it'll take giving up draft picks, probably including a first rounder, which'd be out of character for Ozzie.
- Sign a third-tier talent from the remaining free agency pool: It's slim pickings for a good receiver in the remaining free agent pool. The names that stick out are Jerry Porter, Marvin Harrison, and DJ Hackett. Of the three, I'd say Hackett would be the most likely. But I seriously doubt it'll assuage fans' doubts at the position.
I foresee Ozzie doing something at the position, I'm just not sure what. He'll either address depth, i.e. sign DJ Hackett or one of his ilk (most likely), or he'll pull the trigger on that big trade fans are hoping is in the works (less likely).
It is not likely we'll see any big moves involving any other position. It's the position at the forefront of fans' minds, and I'm pretty sure it's at the forefront of Ozzie's as well.
As always, all a Ravens fan can do is close their eyes and say "In Ozzie We Trust". It's worked out pretty well so far.
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