In recent days, Antonio Brown has expressed interest in playing for Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson seemed to echo the sentiment.
This should be an easy decision for John Harbaugh and Eric DeCosta: acquire the superstar talent.
Yes, Brown has had his share of off-field issues. He forced his way out of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. However, on the field, few can match what Brown brings.
In 15 regular-season games over two seasons with the Bucs, he had 1,028 yards and 8 touchdowns. He caught a pair of playoff touchdowns en route to winning Super Bowl 55 with the Bucs. When the chips are down, and the moment shines the brightest, Brown is the player you want with the football.
Ravens fans know this all too well with Brown’s “Immaculate Extension” on Christmas of 2016. In 130 games with the Steelers, Brown averaged a ludicrous 86.2 yards per game and tacked on 74 touchdowns. He victimized Baltimore for nearly 1,400 yards and five touchdowns in 19 games.
Either way, the Ravens are in a sticky situation with their current roster. Jackson is entering his fifth and final year on his rookie deal. This is the last year that the Ravens get a star quarterback on a steal of a deal. Beginning next season, Jackson will either be earning $40M or be playing for a different organization.
This means that the 2022 offseason is win-now for the Ravens. They have one shot to win a Super Bowl with a loaded roster and a cheap quarterback. Beyond this season, the Ravens will have tens of millions of dollars tied up in Jackson. Regardless of whether you believe he’s worth that much or not, the Ravens must act now.
The crux of signing Brown is the risk-reward factor. However, the risk is astronomically low at this point. The entire league knows Brown has been traded or cut by five teams now. If there is any problem with Brown on the Ravens, DeCosta and Harbaugh will quickly end Brown’s tenure no matter how well Brown is playing.
Earl Thomas is perhaps the easiest example in recent years. Thomas was an outsider (free agent signing from Seattle) who had a strong season in 2019 for the Ravens. When he caused problems inside the Baltimore locker room before the 2020 season, he was subsequently released.
The Ravens value the organization over any individual within the organization. If Brown causes problems (either on or off the field), he will be cut immediately. The Ravens may not be able to match Brown’s superhuman football abilities, but they do have depth at the wide receiver position.
At the core, Brown is a luxury for the Ravens. Wide receiver, for the first time in team history, is not a need. The Ravens have a No.1 option in Mark Andrews. They have their top-two wide receivers locked in with Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown. Beyond Bateman and Brown, they have several No.3-caliber receivers with Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, and James Proche.
For the current situation, the Ravens need to improve along the margins of the roster. They have a solid receiving corps with good depth and an elite option. Antonio Brown would bring another elite weapon to the table, making the Baltimore passing offense that much better.
The baseline (with Jackson) was reasonably high. While his final stat line ended up being on the uglier side, his rate stats compare favorably. He had a higher yards per attempt than both Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. He even had the same adjusted yards per attempt as Josh Allen despite his ridiculous interception rate.
Even if you assume Jackson will be the same quarterback in 2022, Brown would certainly help a passing offense that had a reasonable pulse when Jackson was under center.
Sure, Brown is a luxury, but he expands the passing profile of a competent passing offense. Moving from the 15th-ranked passing offense (using Jackson’s net yards per attempt) to the 12th or 10th would be that much more helpful to the offense (and the team as a whole). For context, the 2019 Ravens had the NFL’s 10th-best passing offense in terms of yards per play.
The Ravens should offer a one-year, incentive-laden deal to Brown. He would be the No.1 wide receiver in the offense and receive a significant share of the targets.
If you think the Ravens do not have enough volume to satisfy Brown, realize that the Ravens ended ninth in pass attempts in 2021 despite playing quarterbacks other than Jackson for five games (plus the time Jackson missed against the Cleveland Browns). They had enough volume to get Andrews and Marquise Brown to 1,000 yards.
The Ravens owe it to Jackson to squeeze every ounce of potential out of the current roster, and it would be a fascinating financial conversation if Jackson sees that he needs a team around him. If the Ravens go all-in for this offseason, it proves to Jackson that they are interested in building the best possible team for Jackson. The difference between 40 million dollars per season and 43 million dollars per season could make a huge difference during Jackson’s mega-deal.