(Amber Searls, USA Today…)
As the Ravens hit the practice field Tuesday, one of their AFC rivals was putting the finishing touches on a significant trade. The New England Patriots sent six-time Pro Bowl offensive guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth-round pick.
Could the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome also have a deal up their sleeves before they have to set their final roster at 53 on Saturday?
Ravens coach John Harbaugh certainly sounded receptive to the idea, but he learned long ago to temper his expectations when it comes to trades at this time of year.
"We've got a good team. We could go play right now. I like our team right now the way it stands. If we can get better, great, but if you get your hopes up, they're probably going to be dashed," Harbaugh said. "But you can never count Ozzie out. He's pretty special."
It's no secret that Newsome and his top lieutenants have been working hard to make a move for a cornerback. Their regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals is just 11 days away and the Ravens' three top corners — Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson — remain out of practice with injuries.
There's optimism with all three players. Jackson (sprained ankle) worked on his lateral movement during practice Tuesday and is making progress. Harbaugh also said that he anticipates Smith (chest contusion) and Webb (lower back injury) returning to practice early next week.
However, by that time, it will be well over a month since Webb last practiced so it's unclear how much the Ravens would be able to count on their most accomplished corner against the Bengals.
"You've got to have continuity in the secondary, and the Ravens' best corners have all missed a lot of time in the preseason," said ESPN NFL analyst Herm Edwards, a former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. "That takes away from the time to work together and really know how each other plays. The problem is those guys are hurt and you've got young guys playing, so it's going to take some time to build that continuity. You don't just flip a switch."
The Ravens have only four healthy corners and that group has five combined career starts — four by Dominique Franks and one by Chykie Brown. But adding to their cornerback depth — at least via a trade — is a difficult proposition.
For one, teams are reluctant to trade quality corners, believing it's a position where you can't have enough depth. The NFL has become a passing league, which puts an even greater premium on corners who can cover. The supply at that position is also exceeded by the demand with several teams, including the Ravens, Jets and Washington Redskins, needing corners and not a whole lot of quality available on the free agent market.
"We look at that every year, the opportunities to make trades and things like that," Harbaugh said. "And every year, I'm usually disappointed that we don't get anybody, because people don't want to trade good players."
At this point, the more likely scenario is probably for the Ravens to wait until teams make their final roster cuts by Saturday afternoon, and try to bolster the depth at a position of need — they also are thin at defensive end — through a waiver claim.
But if they do go the trade route, they have a couple of positions where they are deep and probably could afford to move a player.
Deonte Thompson, who is battling with Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) for one or two available wide receiver spots, could interest a team like the Chicago Bears who are in need of a return man. The Ravens have six inside linebackers so a player like Josh Bynes, who has starting experience and is a good special teams player, could be expendable.
But any trade of significance — like the one the Patriots and Buccaneers pulled off Tuesday — would be against the Ravens' track record. The only time in Harbaugh's tenure where they made a big trade this close to the regular season was in 2010, when they acquired cornerback Josh Wilson (Maryland) from the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round pick. Wilson started nine games for the Ravens that year and finished second on the team in interceptions (three) and passes defended (15).
They also made a smaller deal around this time last year, sending wide receiver David Reed to the Indianapolis Colts for running back Delone Carter. But that deal made little impact for either team and Carter didn't even make the Ravens' regular-season roster.
Still, Harbaugh made it clear that Newsome and the Ravens' front office is out there looking to see what's available and won't be afraid to strike if a deal makes sense.