For much of Tuesday, the top available receivers kept flying off the board after deciding where they wanted to play in the upcoming season and the Ravens remained on the sideline.
However, that changed later in the day when the team agreed to the framework of a contract with former Arizona Cardinals speedster John Brown, according to sources. They also have a deal in place with former Washington Redskin Ryan Grant as first reported by NFL Network.
Deals cannot be finalized until after 4 p.m. Wednesday, but Brown and Grant are in position to be the Ravens early receiver additions in an offseason during which the team will likely have a makeover at the position.
Brown, 27, will reportedly sign a one-year deal worth $5 million with an additional $1.5 million available in incentives.
Given the size of the contracts that several other free-agent receivers reportedly agreed to Tuesday, the deal for Brown is low-risk, high-reward. Brown is just two years removed from a 65-catch, 1,003-yard and seven-touchdown season for Arizona in 2015, and he’s been a dangerous deep threat when healthy.
However, his production has dipped in the two seasons since, and he’s struggled to stay on the field. He was diagnosed with the sickle cell trait during the 2016 season, and then-Cardinals coach Bruce Arians suggested that the condition led to Brown dealing with persistent hamstring injuries.
Brown, a third-round pick out of Pittsburg State in 2014, also missed six games with a toe injury last year. He finished the 2017 season with just 21 catches for 299 yards and three touchdown catches in 10 games.
For his career, he’s made 173 catches for 2,515 yards and 17 touchdown receptions, and he’s averaged 14.5 yards per catch.
Meanwhile, Grant, 27, had 84 catches for 985 yards and six touchdown receptions in four seasons with Washington. His best year came in 2017 when he had 45 catches for 573 yards and four touchdown receptions.
His pending deal for the Ravens is a four-year pact for $29 million with $14.5 million guaranteed, per NFL Network. The size of the deal for a player that has never had 600 yards receiving in a season raised some eyebrows around the league.
Even with the expected additions of Brown and Grant, the Ravens might not be done at receiver. They could pursue former Green Bay Packers standout Jordy Nelson, who was released Tuesday. The 32-year-old has had over 1,000 yards receiving in four of the past six seasons, but he was slowed considerably last year with just 53 catches for 482 yards and six touchdown receptions.
Mike Wallace, the team’s top receiver the past two years, remains available.
In an effort to get help for quarterback Joe Flacco and change the look of their receiving corps, the Ravens had their sights on several options, but the cash-strapped team learned quickly that it would be priced out of the market for the top pass catchers.
The Ravens were in on former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson, but he’s reportedly set to sign a three-year, $42 million deal with the Chicago Bears. Sammy Watkins, who never garnered much buzz in connection with the Ravens, is expected to sign a three-year, $48 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even the secondary wide receiver market is booming with targets such as Albert Wilson (Miami Dolphins) and Marqise Lee (Jaguars) reportedly set to sign contracts in the $8 million per year range.
The picture is just as murky at tight end, another major Ravens’ need. According to source, they made a push for Jimmy Graham, the top tight end on the market, but he reportedly agreed to a deal to join the Packers, where he’ll catch passes from Aaron Rodgers. Another top free-agent tight end, Trey Burton, committed to the Bears.
Each potential Ravens target who committed elsewhere spurred more exasperation from fans who had hopes after Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti suggested last month that the team could make a “splash” in free agency to dramatically improve an uninspiring offense. However, the reality of the Ravens’ salary cap situation was always going to make it difficult for them to be major players on the free-agent market.
A day after releasing veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb, the Ravens did create some salary-cap space by letting go of running back Danny Woodhead after the sides couldn’t agree on a revised, smaller contract. The Ravens also declined the 2018 option on the contract of right tackle Austin Howard, a decision that comes after the team re-signed guard-tackle James Hurst to a four-year deal.
The jettisoning of Webb, Woodhead and Howard create $6.5 million of salary cap space, which leaves the Ravens with around $10 million of room heading into Wednesday’s start of free agency. The Ravens still could release wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who will get a $1 million roster bonus if he’s on the roster by Friday, and they’ve discussed opening more room with contract restructures and/or extensions.