Ravens' moves are a puzzle, not a clear path to future

March 14, 2006|By RICK MAESE

The first week of free agency has been a curious one for the Ravens. Head-scratching? I think my fingernail cut through the skin and just drew blood.

If there's a plan this offseason, it's difficult to decipher. Unless that plan is simply to defy logic, which is all we've seen out of these first few days.

The latest in a series of suspect moves came yesterday, when the Ravens re-signed Jamal Lewis, the team's all-time leading rusher. Even more questionable, two team officials said Lewis would likely start the season over Anderson.

Let's pretend that Lewis didn't already illustrate last year that his best years are likely behind him. Let's just look at the surrounding context. Is it just me, or did the Ravens bend over backward to sign two identical running backs? Are they really expecting that many third-and-two situations next season?

The Ravens agreed to terms with Mike Anderson just a day earlier. Anderson is 32 and he has had just one 1,000-yard rushing season since 2000, his rookie year.

Signing both Anderson and Lewis assures us of a few things: The Ravens won't be picking a running back early in the draft, and they won't have the dynamic offense they've been whispering about.

And this isn't taking care of the future, no more than throwing your savings at cassette tapes and horse-drawn carriages is a wise investment.

You can't even make the argument that these are good short-term signings.

Lewis spent a good part of past season grumbling about his carries. The Ravens just gave Anderson a $2 million signing bonus. Lewis must realize his new teammate will do more than pass out water on the sidelines next season.

It's important to honor the links to the Ravens' Super Bowl team. But at some point, the Ravens need to focus on Super Bowls in the future, not the past. Keeping Lewis around would have made beautiful sense if the front office had plans to draft and hone a young back like LenDale White or DeAngelo Williams. That no longer seems to be in the cards.

Locking up a pair of veteran backs and laying low in their quarterback search, the Ravens again appear to be tying their future to defense. But on that side of the ball, the front office is using the same questionable foresight.

They've signed Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan in the first few days of free agency. While they're screaming from the rafters that Pryce is a four-time Pro Bowl player, you must remember that he hasn't been there since 2002, he has back problems and he managed just 14 solo tackles in his final nine games of last season.

There's a reason the Broncos weren't breaking the bank to re-sign players like Anderson and Pryce. In fact, Denver was trying to unload Pryce this time last year.

And in Bannan, the Ravens have signed a career second-stringer to fill a starting job on what will still be one of the league's best defensive units.

The Ravens lost Tony Weaver and added Pryce. They lost Maake Kemoeatu and added Bannan. These aren't fair trades. Ray Lewis is used to lining up behind big bodies. That's when he's at his best. Kemoeatu is a 350-pound loss. Bannan is a 300-pound addition.

We judge this first few days against a backdrop. Remember last season? The Ravens identified their needs quickly and hit the free-agent market with clear goals. They nabbed the best available wide receiver and the best available cornerback. They handled the offseason in a methodical and effective way.

This year, they're all over the place.

The further into the offseason we move, the closer we actually get to last season. Because despite failures that begged for offseason change, the front office seems to be resisting a much-needed facelift.

Why do I get the feeling the cast of characters in August 2006 will look eerily similar to that of August 2005? Brian Billick, Kyle Boller, Jamal Lewis, Ray Lewis. All skilled individuals that didn't work well as a collection. The Ravens aren't addressing the big problems, choosing to place pots and pans all over Owings Mills rather than addressing the flooding that's creating calamity.

They seem to be content allowing other teams to drool over Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper. I'm not sure why team officials suddenly feel comfortable enough with Boller that they can wait out the process. But you'd think they'd feel a stronger sense of offseason urgency coming off a 6-10 year.

It's good that the Ravens are active in the market and aware of the roster holes. There's still a lot of time, but these first few moves warrant more head-scratching than back-patting.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog

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