Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was asked last month whether his team’s salary-cap situation would prevent officials from making moves in free agency.
“I think that we can make a splash and help us on the way to getting our offense clicking better,” Bisciotti said.
For 39 days, this comment heightened expectations for what the Ravens could do to improve at wide receiver and tight end. On Tuesday, those words rang hollow, as most of the big-name playmakers signed elsewhere.
Sure, it was unrealistic to think that the Ravens, with a limited amount of cap space, would outbid teams. But when an owner uses the word “splash,” optimism builds for Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins or Jimmy Graham.
Instead, free agency began much like the regular season ended — with utter disappointment. Baltimore reportedly reached agreements with a couple of surprise choices at wide receiver: Ryan Grant (not the Green Bay running back) and John Brown. By the reaction on social media, fans were either angered by the moves or Googling the names to figure out who the newest receivers were.
An argument could be made that this was the most important offseason in franchise history. John Harbaugh is likely on the hot seat after missing the playoffs in three straight seasons. Ozzie Newsome is stepping down as general manager after this season. Quarterback Joe Flacco is possibly entering his final season because the team is financially committed to him only through this season.
No one could tell that there was an increased urgency from the unofficial start to free agency. The faces in the wide receiver room did change, as Newsome suggested a month ago, but you can’t say the Ravens definitively got better.
If the Ravens were able to sign Jordy Nelson, there would be added excitement because he has a proven track record and a championship pedigree. But the Ravens are one of a handful of teams in pursuit of the Packers’ fifth all-time-leading receiver.
For now, Baltimore is left with Grant and Brown, both of whom weren’t among ESPN’s top 65 free agents.
Baltimore reached a four-year, $29 million agreement with Grant, according to the NFL Network. It is believed that the Ravens gave Grant the second-most lucrative wide receiver contract in franchise history, even though he hasn’t produced 1,000 yards in a four-year career, much less in one season.
The Ravens’ other deal was a one-year, $5 million contract with Brown, who could be a bargain if he stays healthy or a bust if he can’t shake his injury-filled past. Brown, who has a sickle-cell trait, produced twice as many missed games due to injury (six) as touchdown catches (three) last season.
These agreements came on a day when the Ravens essentially acknowledged that they didn’t make the right moves on offense last year, parting ways with running back Danny Woodhead and right tackle Austin Howard. That freed up $4.8 million of cap space, which many thought would go to improving the offense.
But by the time the numbers came out, it was apparent that Baltimore had no shot at either Robinson ($25 million guaranteed) or Watkins ($30 million). That’s why the Ravens needed to stress the point that their cap restraints were going to limit them from making a splash.
Free agency doesn’t officially begin until 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, so there is time for the Ravens to change the perception of this offseason with other signings and the draft. But if the start is any indication of how the next few months will play out, Baltimore must temper expectations going forward.