For Ray Lewis, the countdown is underway: Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 is when Lewis will find out whether he’s part of the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
Announced over the weekend, the 2017 class got as much attention for who wasn’t in it, namely Terrell Owens, than who was, and that’s regrettable. But Owens’ omission this year certainly sets up for what could be a blockbuster 2018 class.
Along with the misses from this year’s class, a group that includes Owens, offensive linemen Alan Faneca, Tony Boselli, Kevin Mawae and Joe Jacoby, defensive backs Ty Law, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins, there is a bunch of strong first-year candidates.
The Hall of Fame allows only five modern-era entrants each year. Crazier things have happened, but if Jason Taylor is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Lewis should get in on his first try without much debate.
One more Hall of Fame thought: Recently-retired wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. will have to wait five years before he’s eligible for Canton, but Owens’ situation underscores the challenges most receivers face in trying to make it to the Hall of Fame. Owens is eighth all time in receptions, second in receiving yards and third in touchdown catches. Yet his wait to get in the Hall is two years and counting.
Receivers such as Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown had long waits before they got the call. Former St. Louis Rams teammates Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward are currently playing the waiting game and a wave of prolific receivers, a list that includes Smith, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, have either recently retired or figure to within the next couple of seasons.
The logjam of Hall of Fame-caliber receivers will get even deeper, complicating Smith’s path to Canton. I think it eventually happens, but it might take several years after he becomes eligible before it does.
Could have had that guy: I try to avoid the “coulda, shoulda” draft arguments, but after watching Atlanta Falcons rookie linebacker Deion Jones fly around the field during the Super Bowl and make a slew of plays, I couldn’t help but think about how he was drafted in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. That’s 10 picks after the Ravens selected linebacker Kamalei Correa.
Zachary Orr’s retirement creates a need for a fast, play-making linebacker, which Jones established himself to be this past season.
Gillmore reveals extent of injuries: A Texas native, Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore made his rounds on radio row during Super Bowl week and he told SiriusXM NFL radio host and Sporting News columnist Alex Marvez that he suffered from a “broken back,” shoulder surgeries and a hamstring torn in two different spots in 2016, per Marvez.
Gillmore played in just seven games in 2016, and while the Ravens never revealed the extent of his physical issues – they did acknowledge he had offseason shoulder surgery – and Gillmore declined several interview requests, it was clear as early as training camp that the third-year tight end was not himself.
Gillmore and fellow tight end Maxx Williams health and productivity questions complicate the team’s decision-making at tight end. If you feel good about Nick Boyle, Darren Waller and the healthy returns of both Gillmore and Williams, do you let veterans Dennis Pitta and Benjamin Watson go?
How big of a risk is it to dump a potentially productive veteran when Boyle and Waller have suspensions on their resume and Gillmore and Williams have dealt with major injury issues?
Can you afford to put more assets, whether it’s through free agency or the draft, into a position at which you’ve already invested so much? A case could be made that tight end is the position where the Ravens have the toughest decisions to make.
Opportunities for quarterbacks: Both ESPN and NFL Network reported Sunday that new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is interested in bringing Matt Schaub with him to San Francisco to potentially compete for the starting quarterback job. Schaub spent the season as a backup to Matt Ryan after starting two games for the Ravens in 2015.
Schaub has had a solid career. He’s a stand-up guy, and he’s said to be a great teammate. However, if he’s under consideration for a starting job next season, I’d have to think Ravens backup Ryan Mallett will get a look as well.
Mallett obviously has some past indiscretions to overcome but he handled himself well, by all accounts, the past two years with the Ravens. I’d imagine the pending free agent will want to go to a place where he has an easier path to the starting job. There are about five or six teams out there who enter the offseason with obvious starting quarterback questions.
Concern at center: Reading about the impact center Alex Mack made in his first year with the Falcons only reinforces the importance of the Ravens figuring out the center position. Jeremy Zuttah plays hard and his teammates love him, but the injuries have taken a toll the past couple of seasons. Generously listed at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, he’s also a bit undersized.
Jersey sales and star power: A recent quarterly report that revealed the Ravens didn’t have a single player in the top-50 of merchandise sales isn’t a referendum of the talent the team has on its roster.
A lot of factors go into merchandise sales, and the lowly 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, who won six combined games in 2016, having two players each in the top-50 suggests how little the report correlates to winning and losing.
However, the report is a reminder that the Ravens are still lacking in star power and in-their-prime playmakers, and they certainly don’t possess that one transcendent talent that can take over a game. You can win without it, but you better be really good in just about every facet of the game.