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New Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead embraces fresh start after trying 2017 with Saints

From the moment he was informed that the New Orleans Saints were putting the low-round restricted free-agent tender on him, wide receiver Willie Snead IV started considering what other opportunities might be available.

He watched the Ravens growing up and liked the way the organization held its players to a certain standard. He was aware of general manager Ozzie Newsome’s comment that the Ravens were determined to change the look of their wide receivers room. He wanted to be a part of that. He just knew he’d have to wait.

Snead’s first planned free-agent visit to the Ravens on March 21 was postponed because a snowstorm in the Baltimore area wreaked havoc on his travel plans. He made it in about a week later and worked out for the team with quarterback Robert Griffin III and free-agent receiver Michael Floyd. He got great feedback from the workout, but the Ravens told him any potential contract offer would “probably be later than sooner.”

On April 20, the final days teams were allowed to sign restricted free agents to offer sheets, the Ravens agreed to a two-year, $7 million deal with Snead. After a couple of days waiting, the Saints informed the 25-year-old they wouldn’t be matching the deal, allowing him to officially join the Ravens.

“It’s like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I’m in Baltimore,’ ” Snead said after a workout Tuesday. “I have so much respect for this organization and just the opportunity to be here and possibly be an impact player, it’s a dream come true. I just think I needed a fresh start. New Orleans was great to me. They gave me the opportunity to be here right now. I’ll be always be grateful for that and what they did for me. But right now, every person that I met in this building has made me feel at home and made me feel that they’re happy that I’m here. That’s a huge feeling, a great feeling.”

Snead spent parts of four seasons with the Saints. In 2015 and 2016, the 2014 undrafted free agent totaled 141 catches for 1,879 yards and seven touchdown receptions in 30 games, becoming one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets.

However, last season seemed doomed from the outset. He hurt his hamstring halfway through training camp. He served a three-game suspension to start the year for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension stemmed from an offseason arrest on charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to maintain proper control of a vehicle. When Snead returned to the field, his hamstring still hurt and he had a hard time fitting back in with the Saints’ proficient offense.

“Off the field, you have to be smart. I definitely learned from my mistakes and you keep moving forward. I’m just blessed with a second chance,” Snead said. “On the field stuff, trying to deal with the hamstring injury in-season is pretty tough. … By the time I was in some kind of game shape, it was like Week 9 and we were on that roll, [winning eight] games in a row. It’s just hard to get back into the flow of things when Alvin Kamara is coming into his [own], Michael Thomas is making plays and Ted Ginn. They had their offense at that point. As a player that was in the offense and in the scheme heavily over the past two years, that was frustrating.”

Snead had nothing but good things to say about his time with the Saints, but he acknowledged that he can benefit from a change of scenery. It was evident before he signed the offer sheet with the Ravens that his status with Sean Payton’s team was tenuous after the Saints added restricted free agent Cameron Meredith and also re-signed Brandon Coleman, joining a receiving group that still included Thomas and Ginn.

With the Ravens, he already feels part of something fresh. The organization committed to a full reset at the receiver position, signing veterans Snead, Michael Crabtree and John Brown, while drafting Jaleel Scott (New Mexico State) and Jordan Lasley (UCLA). Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Michael Campanaro, key components of last year’s receiving group, are all gone.

“I believe in myself and I know that I can be a game-changer at any moment. Just given those opportunities, I can prove that,” Snead said. “Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback. He’s a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Whenever you have a guy like that, you always have the potential to be great on offense. … Last year doesn’t really matter anymore because the guys that we have in this room are brand new, and we’re hungry and we’re ready. Once we’re on the same page with Joe, I think we’ll do some special things this year.”

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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