Before the Ravens started their great wide receiver search of 2018, team officials reviewed all their pass-catching options. They looked at the pending unrestricted and restricted free-agent receiver classes, the wide receivers available in the NFL draft and the rumored salary-cap casualties at the position.
Two of the names that stood out to them from that third category were Michael Crabtree and Dez Bryant.
A day after the Oakland Raiders released Crabtree on March 15, the Ravens agreed to a three-year, $21 million contract with the veteran, giving quarterback Joe Flacco a much-needed proven possession receiver. Neither the Crabtree addition nor the signing of John Brown ended the Ravens' pursuit of wide receivers.
They met with restricted free agents Cameron Meredith and Willie Snead, and they explored signing Meredith, who ultimately agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints. They hosted veteran Eric Decker, worked out Michael Floyd, bid on Allen Hurns and made an effort to keep Michael Campanaro, who ultimately signed with the Tennessee Titans.
That's all after they spent the early free-agent period exploring a trade for Jarvis Landry, pursuing Allen Robinson and Albert Wilson, and orally agreeing to a deal with Ryan Grant before backing out of it after the former Washington Redskin failed his physical.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome vowed to turn over every stone in rebuilding his wide receiver corps, and he's been true to his word.
Now, Bryant is suddenly available after the Dallas Cowboys unceremoniously released the 29-year-old late last week. Predictably, the Ravens have interest in him, sources confirmed. Ravens fans, who still lament the fact that the team was unable to land Bryant in the 2010 draft, seem infatuated with the idea.
Bryant might not be the same player as he was earlier in his career. He caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns receptions in 16 games last year. Numerous evaluators have said Bryant struggled to get separation from defensive backs and is not coming down with as many jump balls as in the past. Bryant caught just 52 percent of his targets last season. Bryant's sideline outbursts also can turn some people off.
But Bryant is still a dangerous red-zone target. He's still a receiver capable of making big plays. And he competes with a physicality and intensity that the Ravens not only love, but badly need on the offensive side of the ball.
What isn't clear is whether Bryant is interested in the Ravens. He reportedly wants to remain in the NFC East so he can punish the Cowboys twice a year. There's been talk that Bryant's decision will not be based on money, but on his offensive fit and how well he believes he'll mesh with his next quarterback. Bryant has been part of only one playoff victory in eight seasons, so it stands to reason he'll want to join a team with a good chance to win the Super Bowl.
The Ravens have a history of signing standout receivers later in their careers, and several of those additions have worked out. Despite adding Crabtree and Brown, the Ravens have a clear need, and there’s little doubt a healthy Bryant would become one of the focal points of their offense. With more than $10 million of remaining salary cap space, the Ravens have enough financial flexibility to make a deal.
But none of those things matter unless Bryant is truly interested in playing for the Ravens and believes that they represent his best opportunity.