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A Franchise in Decline?

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Ravens strength

Thursday, March 2 could one day prove to be a red-letter day in the history of the Baltimore Ravens – in all ways that are bad. The NFLPA survey of 1300 players cast a thick, dark cloud atop the team’s previously sterling reputation. Color me disappointed. Maybe I’m just another at the end of the bar.

So why is this survey so important? Because it speaks to players’ careers. It speaks to trust and possibly the lack thereof.

We’ve all seen and heard about the Rashod Bateman tweet, sparked by GM Eric DeCosta’s comments at the NFL Combines regarding the lack of talent in the Ravens WR room – another source of frustration.

As reported by ESPNStatsInfo, the Ravens have drafted 8 wide receivers since 2018, tied with the Broncos for the most in the NFL during that stretch. And despite the investment in draft capital – let’s not forget two of the 8 were first-round picks, Ravens receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions and yards, again since 2018.

Is it the offense? Is it the talent? Is it the quarterback? Is it the scouts? How could the Ravens justify selecting Marquise Brown, a small receiver with a Lisfranc injury who would run out of bounds or fall to the ground if a would-be tackler was within 5 yards, when A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel were all still on the board?

SO, frustrating!

And how about all of these offensive players looking to get out of Baltimore?

Is Bateman the next to knock on DeCosta’s door and ask for a hall pass out of town?

Bateman, has a reputation of being a bit of a diva. But I get his beef. Think about it… He’s lost a chunk of two years of production because of leg injuries that he never had before in his career. Now he’s labeled as soft. He’s trying to build a résumé to land that big second deal to set up his family for life. So I kind of get it from his perspective, although he needs to be more mature about it. But then again, I’m pretty sure I made some bad decisions when I was 23.

The Ravens have always had a pristine reputation. But it really has been tarnished since 2020. First round picks want to get out of town – Hayden Hurst then Marquise Brown. A potential cornerstone tackle whose Dad LOVED being a Raven, Orlando Brown, Jr. asked out of Baltimore. Then the mess with Covid in 2020; followed by an injury drenched 2021; followed by a disappointing end to 2022 – ALL of it soaked in the non-stop chatter about Lamar Jackson’s contract.

But back to that NFLPA survey…

The Ravens strength and conditioning group, led by the recently fired Steve Saunders, one of John Harbaugh’s pals, received a grade of F MINUS. I didn’t even know that F- was a thing. Well, it is now! And since the survey was published, players have come out on social media to validate the results.

Steve Bisciotti spares no expense. He is willing to invest in the team, the players, the staff and provide all the creature comforts to assure success. And this is what he gets? Don’t the Ravens have a players’ council to address gripes with management. Judging from the level of angst among players and former players whose careers were cut short, doesn’t it stand to reason that this issue was discussed? It had to be, right? Yet apparently nothing was done! Or maybe something was but it was outside of the competencies of the strength and conditioning staff.

Steve Saunders, the grand Poobah amongst the strength and conditioning staff, was the culprit in the massive spread of Covid in the Ravens facility back in 2020. It was so bad that the Ravens had to play the Steelers on a Wednesday afternoon. Who does this? Then in 2021, injuries crippled the team far and away more than any other team in the NFL. Yet they remained competitive. A testament to the depth on the roster, to the players strength of will and to John Harbaugh’s leadership.

But through it all, Saunders remained…until recently when he was fired – although his underlings are still employed. Scott Elliott has been named the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, while Anthony Watson, Ron Shrift and Kaelyn Buskey also remain on-staff and will serve as strength and conditioning coaches. Is this complacency in staff supposed to instill confidence in current players and future prospective players?

Without much change in the staff, this survey makes it more difficult to recruit. It sullies what Bisciotti has tried to build. It makes it more difficult for players to trust Harbaugh.

Now the Chiefs received an unsavory grade as well, an F- for their training staff. But winning wipes away the relevance of that, at least in the public’s eye. Three Super Bowl appearances and two Lombardi’s in five years along with Patrick Mahomes will do that. How will the Ravens win? Will they play as hard for John with damaged trust? Let’s face it – he kept a much-maligned strength and conditioning chief on staff despite all the injuries that put careers at risk. What does that do to trust moving forward?

But really, how will the Ravens win? They have uncertainty at quarterback and if they bring back their franchise QB under the exclusive tag, their cap is depleted and they’ll lose some good players in the process just to fit Lamar under the cap. How can they fix the WR room? How do they replace the lost talent with just 5 draft picks? They swing and miss in the draft like Chris Davis with a slider in the dirt on a two-strike count.

It’s a big, big problem.

But what do I know?

I’m just a guy sitting at the end of the bar.

And who knows, Maybe Steve Bisciotti will soon join me.

I’ll bet he could use a drink or two after this mess.

The post A Franchise in Decline? appeared first on Russell Street Report.


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