Schmuck: Only surprise about Breshad Perriman's departure from Ravens is it didn't happen sooner

There really is only one burning question about the Ravens’ decision to give up on 2015 first-round draft choice Breshad Perriman this past weekend.

What took so long?

There really was never a moment when Perriman lived up to that lofty draft status. He was supposed to step right into the Ravens’ receiver rotation and give quarterback Joe Flacco a guy who could blow the doors off opposing defensive backs.

He was supposed to move into the role that was played so well by hometown favorite Torrey Smith, whose ability to stretch the field made him valuable even when he didn’t catch the ball.

Maybe the departure of Smith after the 2014 season explains why general manager Ozzie Newsome was seduced by Perriman’s raw speed and took him so high in a draft that saw Minnesota Vikings star and former Maryland standout Stefon Diggs hang around until the fifth round.

The Ravens actually envisioned Perriman as a better, more explosive version of Smith, but that dream ended the first day of training camp in 2015, when he suffered a severe knee injury and missed his entire rookie season.

It’s easy to second-guess the pick now, of course. Newsome had long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as the wizard of the war room, but he picked Perriman in the middle of a period when he seemed to have lost his magic touch.

Two years earlier, he used the Ravens’ first pick to draft undersized safety Matt Elam, whose career and personal life went into a tailspin after a decent developmental season and — at least until now — was considered by many to be Newsome’s biggest first-round bust.

The inability to cash in on two first-round picks in the aftermath of the Ravens’ second Super Bowl title has to rank among the reasons the team slipped into the three-year playoff drought it badly needs to end this season.

It was known at the time that Perriman was a high-ceiling, high-risk pick. Pre-draft scouting reports all emphasized his lightning speed, which he demonstrated with a sub-4.3 40-yard dash during his pro day at Central Florida. Those reports also noted he had one major weakness, and it was kind of an important one.

He had trouble catching the ball.

The most obvious example came early in last season’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, when a catchable pass from Flacco bounced off Perriman’s hands and into the arms of cornerback Bryce Callahan, who returned the interception 52 yards to set up a Bears touchdown. Lest anyone forget, the Ravens missed the playoffs by one game.

Still, they didn’t let go of Perriman easily. They could have declined his $649,485 roster bonus at the start of training camp, but chose to keep him around on the off chance he suddenly bloomed into the dynamic receiver the front office fantasized about through three injury-marred, unproductive seasons.

In retrospect, the roster bonus looks like an act of generosity by the team, since the Ravens acquired so many new receivers during the offseason that it seemed highly unlikely Perriman would be able to do enough in the preseason to end up on the season-opening 53-man roster.

It certainly didn’t help that the Ravens had enough quality depth at both receiver and linebacker to make a number of 53-man cuts painful. They traded linebacker Kamalei Correa to the Tennessee Titans last week to alleviate the roster crunch, a move that also spawned speculation that it was made to help open room for third quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Coach John Harbaugh talked Perriman up after Saturday’s roster reduction, saying he had his best training camp and was productive in the Ravens’ preseason games and practice. Harbaugh wished him well as a report surfaced that Perriman was scheduled to work out for the New York Jets on Monday.

Now, we just have to wait and see if Perriman suddenly blooms elsewhere and becomes Baltimore’s NFL version of pitcher Jake Arrieta, who washed out with the Orioles and won a Cy Young Award and a World Series with the Chicago Cubs.

Don’t even think it.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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