Table all but bare, team throws dice

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens acquired running back Willis McGahee from the Buffalo Bills yesterday in a move that is supposed to upgrade their running game, but it's nothing to get really excited about - not when it cost the team three draft picks. To put it bluntly, within the past two days the Ravens have given up on an older malcontent of a running back with a bad knee for a younger malcontent of a running back with a bad knee.

McGahee is a couple of years younger than former starter Jamal Lewis, and he might put a little more pizazz in the rushing offense, but the trade is somewhat puzzling.

Soon after the 2006 season ended, top Ravens officials said they no longer were interested in mortgaging the present for the future, but they gave up third-round draft picks in 2007 and 2008 plus a seventh-round pick in April for McGahee.

As of today, they don't have a third- or fourth-round pick in April's draft because they gave up the latter in the trade for quarterback Steve McNair last offseason.

So, were the Ravens putting out a spin about a new philosophy or were they admitting that the window of opportunity was about to close because they mortgaged part of their future with the addition of McGahee?

"I've talked to Ozzie [Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome] and told him I don't like some of the things that have gone on," said the Ravens' Pro Bowl offensive tackle, Jonathan Ogden, who still hasn't decided yet if he will retire before next season.

"Ozzie has been in this business for a long time and is one of the best, so I can't criticize him, but there is a fine line in this business of getting ready now and getting ready for the future. I've been through salary-cap purges and rebuilding processes and I'm not sure where we're at."

The addition of McGahee does make you scratch your head. It seems safe to assume that the Ravens, despite all the nice things they had to say about Lewis, really didn't want him back.

Lewis signed with the Cleveland Browns for a reported $3.5 million, and the Ravens only offered about $2 million. If the difference were only $1.5 million, it would have been better to re-sign Lewis than to part with three draft picks.

With Lewis, the team only had to give him a one-year deal. The word around the league is that the Ravens and McGahee have agreed in principle to a seven-year deal that could be worth as much as $40.12 million, which includes a $7.5 million signing bonus and an option bonus of $6 million for next season.

Ouch! That hurts.

McGahee has had success in his four seasons in the NFL, but he does carry some baggage.

He's from the University of Miami, and that's both good and bad. Miami players play with a ferocious attitude (see Ray Lewis and Ed Reed). They are also the ultimate I-guys (see Ray Lewis and Ed Reed). McGahee complained in Buffalo about not touching the ball enough. There was a belief there that he demanded this trade, and the Bills were more than happy to oblige.

There is also the injury factor. McGahee was one of the most explosive runners in the college game until he tore three ligaments in his knee during the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.

He still has reasonable speed and can run inside as well as outside. He can pass-block and is a threat out of the backfield as a receiver, but he doesn't have the ability to hit the home run anymore. And after complaints about his role, he basically shut it down at the end of last season.

That could be a problem, especially with coach Brian Billick, who often strays from the running game, even when effective.

"Jamal Lewis is my boy and I wish him well," Ogden said. "I will say this, and that's during the last two years, we underutilized him. We should have run him more."

It's a gamble by the Ravens, one they really had to make once negotiations with Lewis broke down a couple of days ago. McGahee's best season was in 2005 when he was named a Pro Bowl alternate after rushing for 1,247 yards and five touchdowns. McGahee has started 40 of 46 games in which he has played, carrying 868 times for 3,365 yards and 24 touchdowns.

After McGahee, the only other alternative for the Ravens was former Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots running back Corey Dillon, another potential malcontent who once refused to go into a game against the Ravens in Baltimore during the 2000 season.

So in the Ravens' eyes, they made a great move. With the No. 29 pick in the first round of April's draft, they probably couldn't have picked up an impact running back and they couldn't have drafted a player of McGahee's talents in the third round.

But on the flip side, they probably could have selected a good offensive lineman with each of those third-round picks, and that would have significantly improved the running game.

At least, though, the Ravens didn't give up a first-round pick for McGahee. Now, that would have really caused a stir. Giving up what they did is a big enough deal.

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