The Baltimore Ravens are a team that (yet again) seem stuck between a rock and a hard place heading into the 2018 offseason. The proverbial rock is the need for an infusion of talent to get back to a level of high respectability. The hard place, as always, is the tight salary cap situation that they are facing as a result of some questionable financial management over the past few years.
There are several different theories that have been thrown around about the how the Ravens can return to the playoff scene in 2018. They include cuts, signings, draft strategies, and creative trades. With the uncertainties surrounding cuts and signings, and the draft still a few months away, now is the perfect time to take a look at some plausible trade scenarios and how they can realistically (and efficiently) come to fruition.
One cliche that you’ll undoubtedly see in sports media from blogs to official publications is a breakdown of how each team made it to the Super Bowl, and how others can emulate that strategy. This year has been no different in terms of how people have tried to find the secret formula that got Philadelphia and New England to Super Bowl LII, but in reality, there is no one way to break this down. Instead, there is a common thread between both teams that the Ravens can possibly look at as a cost effective route to take in order to have similar success.
That would be player-for-pick style trades that netted some serious production for both squads, while also largely avoiding a significant cap hit for either team. A month ago for The Ringer, Robert Mays wrote about how this type of transaction has potential to become a new market inefficiency for the league. He starts by explaining New England’s acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints:
“In Bill Belichick’s mind, having two years of Cooks on a rookie deal was more valuable to the Pats than having four years (and a fifth-year team option) of a player he could have taken with the 32nd overall pick.” Mays wrote. “Belichick was willing to pay a premium for certainty, and made multiple transactions that suggested as much. These were probably at least partly motivated by Tom Brady entering his age-40 season, but were also likely driven by a belief that these types of trades can unearth hidden value.”
The hidden value that he refers to is a manipulation of the salary cap to acquire a relatively proven commodity without having to pay for one, at least at first. This is even more evidenced by the success Philly had in executing a similar trading style:
“The Eagles apparently embraced a similar mind-set, and there’s nothing mixed about the results from their flurry of pick-for-player deals.” continued Mays. “The Eagles swung offseason trades for cornerback Ronald Darby (from Buffalo) and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (from Baltimore); both have been instrumental in turning this group into the NFL’s most complete roster. At the trade deadline in October, the Eagles pried running back Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins for a fourth-round pick; in the process, Philadelphia transformed a two-headed backfield monster into a three-headed hydra featuring a trio of distinct skill sets.”
As this relates to Baltimore, it is beyond obvious what their strategy should be this offseason in order to fully complete their roster. That would be to fully and unconditionally commit themselves to finally turn around what has been a sputtering offense for the better part of the last three seasons. They made a sizable investment into quarterback Joe Flacco by giving him a salary that suggests he can carry subpar talent around him to at least a ten win benchmark, and no matter what your opinion of him, he has clearly shown that he isn’t that type of player at this point.
One almost annual suggestion since 2008 on how to help Flacco is to go break the bank on a big name free agent receiver, but with the Ravens in a relative salary cap bind, that isn’t always the most realistic suggestion. As a result, getting a proven player still on their first contract could make some sense for Baltimore.
Without getting specific, what they should be doing right now is taking a look at players from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 draft classes who have shown enough that they may warrant a second contract, but are also in position where their team may be willing to part ways with them for the right price. If they do miss out on some of the receivers/tight ends that are already being thrown out as suggestions, this may be the route that they have to take.