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What We Talk About When We Talk About Free Agent Receivers

Am I wrong? Am I way off base?

John Harbaugh end-of-year press conference
Baltimore Ravens Youtube Channel

Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh gave his end-of-year press conference Wednesday morning and caused quite a stir in the Ravens community. Not only was he non-committal about any specific overhauls to the passing game, he was also hesitant to make any declarations on their offseason plans in regards to adding wide receiver talent to the roster.

The quotes in question:

As previously stated, these quotes did not go over very well with the team’s internet following. Regardless of how you may feel about what he said, there are two important things to note:

First, the Ravens have never been an open book and Harbaugh is notoriously one of the last coaches in the league to offer up real insight through a press conference. As such, it’s a bit foolhardy to read too much into most things Harbaugh says at a presser.

Secondly, this approach to wide receiver has been part of the Ravens’ DNA for nearly their entire existence. They like big bodies out on the perimeter who make tough catches and come to work with the same “lunch pail” attitude that their running backs and linebackers have and they aren’t going to break the bank to bring them in. He also, rightly, mentioned that a team like Baltimore shouldn’t have to beg and appease diva wide receivers who don’t put winning first. Hard to disagree with that.

Now it’s fair to say that an unwillingness to shell out for an elite pass-catcher is a problem in and of itself, but how can we know that this is the death knell for any hope of a top receiver coming to Baltimore? Why would Harbaugh—or any other staff, for that matter—just openly proclaim that the Ravens are gearing up for a bidding war and will take home a WR1 by any means necessary? Those are simply bad negotiation tactics and the Ravens were built by having some of the best in the business at getting what they want for the price they want.

To that point, the Ravens have found success in bringing in these hard-nosed, reasonably-priced veterans in the past. They scooped up Derrick Mason in the 2005 offseason for only $4 million a year and he went on to become the franchise leader in all major receiving categories. Five years later, they landed Anquan Boldin in a trade and extended him to a contract worth a mere $7 million AAV and we all know how that turned out (not to mention his two consecutive 1000-yard seasons with a certain coordinator). And two years removed from a Super Bowl run, they went and brought in Steve Smith, Sr. for the same AAV as Mason. These may not all be examples of the type of player fans are looking for, but they ended up as three of the best and most beloved Ravens receivers to date.

Though it is still unlikely we see Allen Robinson II wearing purple come the fall, Eric DeCosta has shown a quicker trigger finger than Ozzie Newsome when it comes to injecting weak spots of the roster with serious talent. His first move as General Manager was signing Earl Thomas III to the richest free agent contract in Ravens history—regardless of how that turned out—to address a weak safety group. He then brought on Mark Ingram II on a team-friendly deal to solidify what had been a rotating cast of running backs for a few years prior. Then, after the Ravens were thoroughly embarrassed by the Cleveland Browns in M&T Bank Stadium, he went right back to the drawing board with the inside linebacker group by signing veterans L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes to minimum contracts. A few weeks later, he traded Kenny Young and a fifth-round draft pick to bring in Marcus Peters and complete a daunting defensive secondary. After the Ravens were dominated in the playoffs by Derrick Henry, he grabbed one of the league’s premier defensive tackles in Calais Campbell and snagged a more underrated one in Derek Wolfe. And midway through the 2020 season when fans were worried about the pass rush? Enter Yannick Ngakoue.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying Eric DeCosta will not sit idly by and watch his team falter if there’s anything he can do about it. Although it’s not much, the Ravens have more cap space than most heading into this offseason and there’s only so much to go around due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on league revenue. Don’t be so surprised when you see an alert that another premier player is boarding a plane for Charm City...