Immediately after their second Super Bowl win the Ravens were faced with the question of how to keep Joe Flacco, who had been voted Super Bowl MVP and posted an extraordinary pre-season. Having failed to reach a deal the previous off-season, the team now had little leverage: they had to meet Flacco’s terms or he would be a free agent. With the untested Tyrod Taylor as backup, that wasn’t viable. The Ravens signed Flacco to a deal making him the highest-paid QB in the league.
For critics of the Flacco deal, the result was that there was no cap room to sign players to support him. The counter argument is that the Ravens had the money to put playmakers around their quarterback but simply failed to do so. The Ravens’ first four draft picks in 2013 went on the defensive side of the ball and Flacco’s go-to receiver from the Super Bowl run, Anquan Boldin, was traded to San Francisco.
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Breshad Perriman will go down as a draft bust.
In 2014, the first three picks again went on the defense. A year later, the Ravens finally used a number one pick on a wide receiver but the player they chose, Breshad Perriman, proved to be injury prone and struggled to make catches.
Lack of weapons
Whatever the verdict – an unlucky front office or a complacent one – the result was five seasons of mediocrity and an overall 40-40 record. After missing the playoffs in 2013, the Ravens returned in 2014, beating the Steelers in the Wild Card round before losing to the Patriots in New England, 35-31. Three years of playoff misses followed.
As the 2018 season approaches, Harbaugh is seen as being on the ‘hot seat’, along with the rest of his coaching staff. Meanwhile, 2018 will be Ozzie Newsome’s final one as general manager before he steps back and hands the role to his current deputy, Eric DeCosta.
There’s a lot on the line but it’s also fair to say that the Ravens haven’t been out of contention over the last few years. In 2014, against the Patriots, the Ravens twice led by 14 points and had plenty of chances to win. They were out of contention in 2015 but could have made the playoffs a year later, but for a narrow defeat in Pittsburgh in week 16. In 2017, a blown coverage at the end of the final regular season game, against the Bengals, cost them a playoff place.
The Ravens have never been a team that sets the pace in the race for the playoffs. Both Super Bowl-winning teams were Wild Card teams, after all. While the team’s leadership talks about the goal being to win the division and earn some home playoff games, the reality is more pragmatic: get there any way you can and hope you get hot in the playoffs.
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Owen Daniels catches a TD against New England in the 2014 Division Playoffs.
Just good enough
That’s not a bad strategy in today’s NFL, where only the Patriots have had perennial success, year-in, year-out, but it’s frustrating when the team isn’t quite good enough to get to the playoffs and have a chance at a run. The Ravens need to find a way to return to the team they were between 2008-2012 – a consistent playoff team that always seemed like they could make a run if the breaks fell their way.
The 2018 Ravens have a solid defense and more offensive potential than they’ve had in a long time – but potential doesn’t always come to fruition. The team drafted a quarterback in the first round, Lamar Jackson, as the heir to Joe Flacco. Jackson, a speedy, electrifying player, is expected to develop behind Flacco for at least a year before starting but he has at least got people excited about the future.
The receiving corps has been overhauled too. Out go Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro and in come Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead. The Ravens also added two receiving tight ends in the draft – Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.
The last few seasons have been frustrating ones for a Ravens fanbase accustomed to success. It’s always worth remembering that it could be much, much worse. Since the franchise was brought back in 1998, the Cleveland Browns have gone 88-216 and made the playoffs just once. They lost to the Steelers.
Top photo: Keith Allison