Desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s exactly how Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and Co. handled the Odell Beckham Jr. negotiations and eventual contract. The Ravens have struggled in more than just a few ways over the past few seasons, but none as much their own doing as having an underwhelming receiving corps for Lamar Jackson to throw passes to.
Mark Andrews has been phenomenal since the day he stepped foot in Baltimore as a tight end, but Jackson has never truly had the luxury of a top pass catcher on the outside. And while that won’t change even with Beckham’s arrival, Baltimore is at least showing that they’re willing to take a step forward in regards to roster construction.
There was probably a belief in Baltimore, especially with the way that Greg Roman designed the offense and called plays as part of a staunchly run-first attack, that it was unnecessary. But while the run game remains a priority in Baltimore because of how dangerous Jackson is on the ground, for longevity purposes — and for the sake of passing efficiency — something had to change.
Lamar Jackson NEEDED Weapons
Marquise Brown was a decent receiver for Baltimore and did a nice job commanding targets. But behind him in 2020 and 2021 were names like Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, Sammy Watkins, and an oft-injured rookie Rashod Bateman.
Devin Duvernay began flashing in 2021 but remains a better fit as a third option who also happens to be a very dangerous return man. Bateman was injured in 2021 and broke his foot in 2022. The young receiver had foot surgery in November, but they believe him to be healthy heading into 2023.
“He’s healthy,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s going to be running in three weeks. He’s going to be ready to roll stronger than ever, healthier than ever. Rashod’s going to have a great season. I’m a big believer in Rashod Bateman. He’s going to come back ready to roll.”
Unfortunately, Lisfranc injuries have not been kind to offensive players throughout time in the NFL, and wide receiver is among the ones negatively affected most by that injury. Players also remain available at a lower rate after said injuries, a bad sign for someone who’s already missed time in his first two NFL seasons.
But that’s been the theme for Baltimore over the past two seasons. Between the Ravens and the Tennessee Titans, it’s difficult to delineate which has had a more frustrating time keeping key players healthy. It’s no surprise Baltimore’s strength staff (F-), treatment of facilities (C+), weight room (C+), and training room (C) all received underwhelming grades in the NFLPA survey conducted.
Unless you’re QB/TE duo is Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, with Andy Reid crafting the offense, it’s difficult to build an entire offense with a tight end being the top target. And it’s clear from the survey that the strength program in Baltimore is an issue. Strength coach Steve Saunders was not looked at favorably by former players or fans listening to former players.
Matt Judon replied to a DeShon Elliott tweet in November 2021, calling for the Ravens to fire the strength coach. Derek Wolfe claimed that Saunders prematurely ended his career.
“I think it has a lot to do with who’s running the weight room,” Wolfe told 104.3 The Fan. “I was two weeks away from getting back on the field. They put me in the weight room with that strength coach, I couldn’t walk again.”
Former Ravens WR Quincy Adeboyejo said there was a “huge disconnect” between the training staff and strength coaches, which led to injuries for many guys. While Scott Elliott is an internal hire for the job and many of the other S&C coaches remain, there is still a decent chance the Ravens see a different scene. Strength coaching is very individualized, and Elliott likely gave Baltimore a clear vision of exactly how different things would be with him at the helm.
With a healthy Jackson in 2019 and 2020, the Ravens saw him win an MVP and produce the third-highest dropback EPA in the NFL, behind only Kansas City and Green Bay. Adding someone like Beckham doesn’t give Baltimore a top option as they had before with Brown, but the competency shared between a hopefully healthy Duvernay, Bateman, and Beckham is enough to offer hope.
However, it won’t keep Ravens fans from going insane worrying about injuries. OBJ didn’t play a single snap in 2022. Bateman only played in six games before breaking his foot last season, and Duvernay missed the final three weeks of the season after he, too, broke a bone in his foot.
Turning Things Around in One Offseason
The Ravens have the 22nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, with only five picks total, and no second-round selection available to help them move up to get someone like Jaxon Smith-Njigba. But his addition alongside Beckham, Bateman, and Duvernay would provide a potential example of a cultural shift offensively from the way Roman did things to how Todd Monken may.
And while Monken was no stranger to 12 personnel, and the Ravens would still use it often, being able to actually hold advantages on the outside in 11 personnel is where Baltimore’s passing game bread will be buttered.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the contractual situation between the Ravens and Jackson, doing what they can to build a receiving corps not only helps their efforts of making him a happy camper but it also provides a more stable environment should the league finally decide the 26-year-old former MVP is worth a few first-round picks and a heavily guaranteed contract.
Odell Beckham Jr. Is Not $15 Million Worth of Dangerous
The last time we saw Beckham, he played 14 games in 2021 between the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams. He averaged just 38 yards per game receiving in both spots. And while his situation in Cleveland was certainly tumultuous, he was far from the lead fiddle in Los Angeles.
That is until the playoffs rolled around. We thought at the time his four-game playoff run would secure him millions of dollars in guaranteed salary, but a devastating knee injury in the Super Bowl ended that dream… but only for a season.
I remember the moment in the auxiliary press box vividly. Beckham had become quite a nice story since getting to Los Angeles, and his playoff run was making him a lot of fun to cover. Then he caught a fantastic touchdown in the Super Bowl and appeared on track for another monster performance.
When he went down, the entire press box had a perfect view of it, and we all knew instantly what his non-contact lower body injury probably meant. It looked as though 100 journalists had just been punched in the chest, the wind completely taken out of their sails. We were all ready for his redemption arc. But that was his second ACL tear in three seasons, and he hadn’t exactly been the same freak athlete we got used to seeing in New York because of mounting lower body injuries.
Beckham is now 30, didn’t play a down last season, has a long history of injuries, and went through the entire beginning of free agency without a deal. Congratulations are in order for Zeke Sandhu, the man responsible for negotiating Beckham’s deal with the Ravens. Baltimore obviously didn’t want the receiver to get on a… jet… to New York, and overpaid to ensure it.
Had it been an incentive-laden deal, we could have understood the gravity of the potential numbers. If healthy, the veteran receiver is still an incredibly savvy route runner who can win against man and zone coverage because of his prowess and flexibility. But guaranteeing $15 million to an oft-injured receiver to play for a team that can’t keep receivers healthy is a terrifying move.
But the Ravens are swinging, which is exactly what DeCosta promised during the NFL Combine when asked about Baltimore’s receiving corps problems.
“If I had an answer, that would probably mean I would have some better receivers,” DeCosta told reporters. “We’re gonna keep swinging. There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks. We’ve never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing, but it’s not for a lack of effort. … It’s one of those anomalies that I really can’t explain, other than to say that we’re not going to stop trying.”
In what could potentially be Jackson’s final season in Baltimore, the team’s taking a go-big-or-go-home attitude, and it could pay off if they can somehow keep their roster on the field.