In 2015, the Ravens allowed Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee to sign more lucrative contracts elsewhere. This offseason, the Ravens watched Kelechi Osemele flee and released Will Hill who was about to be suspended by the league. All of these decisions are justifiable individually, but as a whole, the Ravens have replaced their salaries with many players on the downsides of their careers.
The Ravens used the money they saved by not resigned Osemele to sign the 35-year old Ben Watson, the 31-year old Eric Weddle and Mike Wallace, who will be 30 when the regular season begins. The fourteen highest paid non-kickers on the Ravens roster for 2016 will have an average age of 31.29 years old at the beginning of the season. These same fourteen players are owed approximately $152 million in guaranteed money on their current contracts.
Professional athletes in all sports lose their speed and become more injury prone as they grow older. The conscience decision to build an older roster is an interesting choice for a Ravens team that has been decimated by injuries for three consecutive seasons and also was regarded as a team that lacked speed when they lost multiple close games in 2015.
Watson and Weddle are regarded as strong leaders and their additions many have been necessary in the Ravens locker room after losing veterans Daryl Smith and Chris Canty. They will add experience to a team that now has an abundance of leadership between the new signings, Joe Flacco, Marshal Yanda, Lardarius Webb, Steve Smith Sr., Justin Forsett and Terrell Suggs.
Leadership is definitely important, the Ravens won a Super Bowl with a relatively old roster in 2012, including Ray Lewis, who was perhaps the best leader in NFL history. The average age of the fourteen highest paid non-kickers on last Ravens championship team were an average of 28.86 years old at the start of the season. That is almost two and a half years younger on average than the 2016 Ravens top players will be.
Furthermore, the 2012 Ravens had won playoff games in each of the previous four seasons while earning a 33-15 regular season record in the previous three seasons. The 2016 Ravens will be following one playoff win over the last three seasons combined and a 23-25 regular season record over the same time period. Usually teams who are more successful in previous seasons look to add aging veterans who can help them advance further in the playoffs while teams that are less successful in previous season are focused on building towards the future with younger players who can grow together.
Players with high character are also very important for a franchise that was embarrassed by Ray Rice in the recent past. The Ravens roster is full of high character players that fit Head Coach John Harbaugh's mold, Watson and Weddle are no exception. However, there is no denying the Ravens have allocated salary investments into mostly older players over the past couple offseasons. Not only have the Ravens been reluctant to spend the large sums required to sign free agents from other teams who are in their prime years, the Ravens have also allowed some of their best homegrown players to take their talent to other teams while at the peak of their abilities.
We shall see if the Ravens make a cognizant decision to balance out the athleticism vs. experience equation on their roster by selecting hyper athletic prospects who may not be completely polished, but contain elite upside, in the 2016 draft.