Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli previews the Ravens' game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns and gives his keys to the game. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
With a team many believed to be among the best in the NFL struggling at two key positions, the Ravens have turned to the rare in-season trade to bolster their roster.
Trades for cornerback Will Davis and wide receiver Chris Givens since the season began represent the latest way the Ravens are trying to fill out their roster by solid scouting. They join a growing number of NFL teams that this year are looking to other teams' rosters for players they think can contribute — and who are desperate to do so when given a chance.
"I think everybody gets motivated by different things, and most of us get motivated when we feel like we're working for an opportunity and we finally get it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "[Givens] is certainly going to have an opportunity here come Sunday to do everything he's ever dreamed of."
Fourteen players have gotten that dream change of scenery in the four-plus weeks since NFL rosters were set Sept. 5, a sharp rise in deals during the season compared with years past.
The NFL's Nov. 3 trade deadline is still 31/2 weeks away, and more players already have been swapped in season this year than in 2014 (four), 2013 (10), 2012 (four) and 2011 (seven).
As for the Ravens, Casserly said it's the holistic approach to improving a roster that general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome has come to be known for.
"Ozzie will make the trade," Casserly said. "And they've been hit there as the cornerback position struggled, the wide receiver position is struggling with injuries. Guys are available."
The Ravens aren't averse to making trades in the offseason, but the only player they've brought in during the season via trade in recent years is left tackle Eugene Monroe, acquired in October 2013.
Just like this year, a roster need made that deal necessary. Bryant McKinnie wasn't cutting it in the first month of the season at left tackle and was dealt a few weeks after Monroe came in.
This year, the big cast of cornerbacks in training camp didn't yield much depth behind starters Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Kyle Arrington is more of a nickel cornerback than an outside one, injury slowed Rashaan Melvin as the season began, and rookie Tray Walker is seen as more of a developmental player for the future.
So the Ravens acquired Davis, who said a trade seemed to be in the air for nearly a month before the team sent a seventh-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for the 2013 third-round draft pick.
Likewise, the deal for St. Louis Rams wide receiver Givens seemed to be in the works for a while. It wasn't because of the short-term need for a receiver after Steve Smith Sr. and Michael Campanaro suffered back injuries, but because of the need for a speedy receiver with first-round pick Breshad Perriman recovering from a knee injury.
Casserly said Davis and Givens had good reports coming out of college, and seemingly fit into the category of players who needed a fresh start.
But to bring in a useful piece at wide receiver and cornerback in September and October would mean the Ravens are acquiring meaningful contributions where they've rarely found them.
The list of in-season trades over the past few years is largely uninspiring. Cornerback Aqib Talib sparked two playoff runs after the Patriots acquired him in November 2012, but injuries in the AFC championship game two years in a row limited his impact.
Big names such as Percy Harvin, Trent Richardson and Carson Palmer didn't deliver much value to the teams who acquired them in-season, and the rest of the group of players who switched teams in-season reads like a list of draft busts and no-chancers.
Monroe said the constant turnover in the coaching staff early in his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars made him agreeable to an in-season trade and the transition is possible for anyone who puts in the effort.
"It just takes time," Monroe said. "It's not impossible for anybody, and I think that some of the people we brought here midseason, whether it's by trade or however they ended up here, the Ravens have always done a good job of getting guys in there who are pretty intelligent and can pick up whatever we're doing."
Players involved in such moves typically have a willingness to catch up and make an impact, as Harbaugh noted, because of the opportunity presented. Givens said the chip on his shoulder is more like a potato after sliding down the Rams' depth chart after catching 42 passes for 698 yards and three scores as a rookie.
Davis said players are aware that trades don't occur in football the way they do in other sports, but that seems to raise the stakes, considering the situations traded players typically are leaving behind.
"You come in here and you're excited because you know they want you," Davis said. "It's a good situation, as far as the secondary and the way things were looking. … You know they're going to give you a shot. That's the good part."