Yesterday, many were surprised when news broke that the Ravens were signing OT Ju’Wan James. After signing Alejando Villanueva to a two-year deal just weeks ago, offensive tackle was no longer perceived as a significant short-term need.
It still isn’t — but the signing of James has little-to-no implications for the upcoming season. That’s because James is fresh off a torn Achilles injury and is projected to spend the entirety of the 2021 season rehabbing. The terms of James’ contract with Baltimore see him only earning about $500K in 2021, as reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Ja'Wuan James opted out last year, and is expected to miss this year, but now will rehab in Baltimore with his sights set on returning in 2022. https://t.co/QG67tx65Wx— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 7, 2021
So why, then, would the Ravens entertain acquiring him?
It follows a similar theme of this offseason and a similar theme of Eric DeCosta’s tenure as general manager thus far: proactivity. Being proactive means getting out ahead of a situation and operating with the long-term in mind as opposed to thinking only of the immediate future.
Should James return to full health after this season, his availability heading into the 2022 season gives the Ravens a great deal of flexibility at the offensive tackle position. They can part ways with Villanueva or James at little cost, or choose to keep both should they see fit. With James in the fold, the Ravens should not enter next year’s offseason with offensive tackle as a pressing need.
Scratching off needs and/or preventing them before they exist is a shrewd way of operating. DeCosta was also thinking ahead in the draft, too, when he traded back with the Cardinals and acquired a 2022 fourth-round pick in the process. In exchange, the Ravens gave up pick No. 210 in this year’s draft.
It’s hard to imagine looking ahead to the forthcoming draft in the middle of the current one, but that’s exactly what DeCosta and the Ravens’ brain trust did. Drafting FB/TE Ben Mason in the fifth round could also be viewed as a proactive move, as well.
Why? Because Mason is unlikely to see much of any offensive playing time in 2021 given the redundancy between his game and Patrick Ricard’s game. Surely the Ravens knew this and yet drafted him anyways. Not coincidentally, Ricard happens to be entering the final year of his contract and will be a free agent after this season.
Does drafting Mason mean the Ravens won’t look to retain Ricard? No, but having Mason in-house gives them added insurance and flexibility — much like the addition of James does. You could also say that drafting Shaun Wade is insurance in case of another injury to Tavon Young, too.
Being proactive as opposed to reactive is important to success. Too often many general managers in the NFL are short-sighted and fail to recognize this. Fortunately for the Ravens, Eric DeCosta continues to be a forward-thinker and understands the big picture.