Share & Connect
It is not often that the Baltimore Ravens’ General Manager Ozzie Newsome comes under criticism, but his failure to strengthen the Ravens’ receiving corps this offseason has been labeled by many as a mistake. In fact, not only have the Ravens not made any significant additions at the wide receiver or tight end positions, but they have also lost key players.
Firstly, wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers as part of a salary cap purge, and more recently tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a hip injury, which will potentially rule him out for the entire season. With little remaining talent left unsigned on the market, the question now arises whether or not Baltimore will be tempted to open the purse strings and bring in a proven veteran, or roll the dice on some of their talented youngsters.
Experienced tight end Visanthe Shiancoe had been visiting Baltimore prior to Pitta’s injury, and has subsequently been signed to a one year deal, allowing him to compete with Ed Dickson, Billy Bajema, Alex Silvestro and Matt Furstenburg for a roster spot. Shiancoe was very productive during his time with the Minnesota Vikings, but only participated in four games last season for the New England Patriots, and failed to catch a single pass. That is not to say that Shiancoe couldn’t still be a useful offensive weapon for Baltimore, as few tight ends in the NFL would see much game time behind the pairing of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that the Patriots boasted last season. Pitta’s injury could also help cement a roster place for Bajema, who could resume his role from last season as a primarily blocking tight end, and although undrafted rookie Furstenburg has impressed so far in training camp, it’s likely that Baltimore will seek veteran help at the position. Newsome is infamous for waiting for other teams to cut expensive veterans during preseason, and then acquiring them at good value, but if Newsome is keen to add further experience sooner rather than later, then Dallas Clark or Travis Beckum could be possible solutions if the price is right.
Another option could be for the Ravens to up their offer to fullback Vonta Leach and use the recently drafted Kyle Juszczyk in both the fullback and tight end positions. Although Juszczyk was drafted as a fullback, and believed to be a cost effective long-term replacement for Leach, the former Harvard man has significant experience at the college level of playing the tight end position. The rookie had 125 receptions for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns during his college career, and his versatility could be vital for the Ravens’ offense this upcoming season. Even before Pitta went down with injury, there was a significant chance that the Leach would return to Baltimore, but those chances could have increased dramatically as they would allow Juszczyk increased snaps at tight end.
Strengthening at wide receiver could be another solution, and although the Ravens had previously stated publicly that they were happy with their current crop of young wide receivers, the loss of Pitta could have changed that perception. There may be no obvious stars left available, but the likes of Brandon Lloyd or Laurent Robinson could offer value, and would compete for the second spot behind Torrey Smith. Neither player has the playmaking ability of Jacoby Jones, but Jones has struggled in the past to hold down the number two spot, and if John Harbaugh has any concerns over Jones’ consistency, Lloyd or Robinson would provide very solid competition. Younger players such as Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mallette all offer intriguing potential, and they will be under pressure in camp and during the preseason games to show that potential is not all they have.
New offensive additions are likely before the beginning of the new season, but if Dickson can develop the same kind of chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco that Pitta had, then he will help minimize the loss of Pitta, and Boldin, particularly on third down and red zone plays. No matter how much chemistry Dickson creates with Flacco, though, the lack of Pitta may mean that the league’s increasing tendency towards two tight end sets could be bucked in Baltimore this year. Unless, of course, Newsome can work his magic and bring in significant talent at the position closer to the season.
Photo Courtesy of Phil Romans