Thursday, June 18, 2009

For Ravens, No Cavalry Coming to Bail Out Wide Receiver Position

Do you know when the last time we had a post (aside from Free Kicks) that wasn’t about the Orioles? A month ago, on May 17th. That is incredible, considering even last year we couldn’t keep up with that much content on the team as it entered their annual free fall. This year it seems as though nothing can stop the news coming out of Camden Yards, even as the team hovers ten games under .500. However, I think we all need a break to talk about that other Baltimore team- the Ravens, who in most recent years have made this city forget about the Orioles by mid-May. While the O’s struggle to find a steady rotation, the Ravens are finding themselves in their own struggle for players, most notably at the wide receiver position. Many names have been thrown out over the past six months- Anquan Boldin, Braylon Edwards, and most recently, Brandon Marshall.

So who has Ozzie gone out and gotten? No one. Not in free agency, not in the draft, and not in any trades. But don’t for a moment confuse this with satisfaction with the Ravens current roster. Derrick Mason is a solid, sure-handed receiver with enough speed to be a productive Number 1 guy for another couple years, but he has had very little help from his supporting group and is not the kind of guy you want going deep anymore. Likewise with Mark Clayton, who was drafted as an ideal slot receiver but has not had the opportunity to play much at that position due to the lack of a consistent Number 2 receiver on the opposite sideline. There was nothing sadder last season than seeing Mark Clayton try to go deep and look overmatched and out of place as he struggled to make the catch. Clayton is a very good player, but only in the right role. He can be electric going over the middle, but given the limited options he is forced out of his natural position.

And then there is the enigmatic Demetrius Williams, who when he was drafted was thought by many as one of the shrewder moves by Ozzie Newsome as he picked up the 6-2 speedster in the 4th round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Since then we have not seen all that much of the supposed deep threat, having played in just 16 games since his rookie season, and in only 7 last season. Consistent, nagging injuries have slowed Williams’ career almost to a halt, and it will take a great (and injury-free) season to assure the Ravens that he can be productive for them. I want him to be successful, but in his fourth year it is time for him to put up numbers or find another less painful line of work.

Behind these guys are a host of also-rans and late round picks who failed to make an impact last season- only one ball was caught last season by a wide receiver that wasn’t caught by either Mason, Clayton, or Williams. So what are the Ravens to do? Certainly they could use a talent like Brandon Marshall, this week’s wide receiver “trade me” flavor of the month. However, his price tag of a 1st and 3rd round pick, in addition to his demands for a salary in the $8-9 million stratosphere, not to mention his laundry list of criminal complaints (and ongoing prosecution) make him an unpalatable choice. As far as other trades go, the Ravens value their draft picks and utilize them incredibly well. As such, I couldn’t see the Ravens giving up any more than 2nd and 3rd round picks, almost as much as they gave up in the Willis McGahee deal. There is a chance this could happen. If Brandon Marshall is traded (and the Broncos GM has indicated he will try to unload the troubled wideout), that could open up another player for the Ravens to acquire, in addition to a trading partner very eager for additional draft choices to take the sting out of their deal. This will depend on where Marshall lands, but if he heads to the Browns then Cleveland would be even more apt to part ways with Braylon Edwards (whose drops might decline with a decent quarterback).

This isn’t altogether likely, but I suppose the lesson to take from all these trade rumors is this: Even when you are in a serious need for a player and there are good players out there, it still doesn’t make sense to make a deal. The Ravens will keep looking but for now they will have to hope that Demetrius or one of the young guys like Ernie Wheelwright or Justin Harper become a legitimate threat for opposing defenses. The price tag is far too high for a known commodity in the NFL. This team might have to just sit with what they have rather than mortgage the future- and with young Joe Flacco under center, the future is what matters.

UPDATE: My mistake- I wrote that Justin Harper was the #4 receiver for the Ravens while I meant to refer to Marcus Smith, the other second-day receiver Baltimore drafted last season. The point remains though, thanks to Windsor for the heads up.

No comments: