“The Baltimore Ravens need to take a receiver with their first pick in the draft this year, and then take an EDGE in the second round.”
Raise your hand if you’ve heard that once or twice over the past few months. Now raise a fist if it makes you want to punch something. OK, now wiggle your left foot in a counter-clockwise motion while patting your head and singing the theme song to “Cheers” and rolling your right shoulder in…
Sorry. I got drunk with power there for a second.
Look, we can all take a look at the Baltimore Ravens team that ended the 2020 season with a whimper against the Buffalo Bills and see what was lacking, particularly on offense. We can go back through the league transactions during the start of free agency a few weeks ago and see what the Ravens lost on defense. This is easy, and any die-hard fan can take an objective look at this team and point out some perceived weaknesses and strengths.
And I’m now about to trot out a three-word phrase that is certain to make the hair on the back of some of your necks stand at attention when I say them, but here we go — “Best Player Available.”
The NFL is a cyclical institution. The salary cap requires teams to shuffle talent in and out, relying on the reasonable costs of predetermined rookie contracts to allow them to target a handful of “game-changing” players to massive contracts.
In reality, it is a constant uphill fight to stay relevant and competitive, with a few mediocre-to-bad draft classes basically sabotaging your ability to compete. Sure, it’s great that you have five Pro-Bowlers signed to lengthy contracts. What about the rest of your team?
This is how you end up in that dreaded 8-8, 9-7, 7-9 island where you can’t make the playoffs or get high draft picks to improve your chances of adding more game-breakers. Or, you know, with the new schedule, 9-8, 8-9, etc. Whatever, right? You know what I’m saying.
So, with this serving as the backdrop of reality for all franchises in the league, drafting that “Best Player Available” takes on exponentially more import. Yeah, you have a starting right tackle, and he’s good.
But is he one of those select few you have targeted for another contract? Or, does it make sense to draft one, even if he has to sit for a year or two? It’s critically important in today’s NFL that you have a sustainable and successful pipeline of affordable, talented players. Players leave for bigger contracts. Players get injured.
Sometimes… well, sometimes players have a desire to play another position where you already signed an All-Pro player to a lucrative contract.
There’s also another thing to consider here if you are a decision-maker trying to pick between selecting for need against taking a player you have rated higher — you find yourself relying on rookies to make significant impacts.
That’s not really fair to the player or your organization. And, if you are opting for immediate need, do you go for that lower-ceiling player that you feel comfortable can be at least serviceable in Year one to fill that hole over a supremely talented player who might take more time to season, but offer your organization more in the long run?
Look, I want the Ravens to get a game-changer at receiver, an EDGE who terrifies offensive coordinators, and a center who can both manage to take on defensive linemen and not snap the ball to Albuquerque. I also want a full head of hair, a debit card that doesn’t cry when I take it out of my wallet, and an extra 130 years on this spinning ball so I can watch generations of McCanns do stupid things as I get older.
But what I most want the Ravens to do is to add talent. Increase competition. Secure more picks to try to compensate for the fact that the draft is anything but an exact science. We hear a lot about striking while “the window is open.”
To me, maintaining a steady flow of talent and identifying the right players to extend on lucrative contracts keeps your window open longer. And that gets you more bites at the figurative apple.
Yes, try to win this year. But also try to win five years from now. The Baltimore Ravens should attack free agency and trades to target specific needs unless the draft falls exactly their way.