Cutting Crabtree will save the Ravens just north of $4.6 million of cap space for the 2019 season. Baltimore signed Crabtree to a three-year, $21 million contract last year. He finished 2018 with 54 receptions (the second-lowest total of his career in a full season) for 607 yards and three touchdowns (two touchdowns in the Ravens Wild Card loss to the Chargers).
Crabtree was targeted 100 times in 2018, meaning that he caught just over half of the balls thrown his way. He dropped a number of passes, including some crucial ones. Many Ravens fans still bring up Crabtree dropping what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass against Cleveland in week 5 as one of the events that led to Joe Flacco‘s downfall.
Comparatively speaking, Crabtree caught 41 passes for 472 yards and two touchdowns in games started by Flacco. In Lamar Jackson‘s starts, including the playoffs, Crabtree recorded 15 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns.
It goes without saying that Crabtree was much more involved in games with Flacco under center. Based on the different playing styles between Flacco and Jackson, that should not surprise anyone. Regardless, Crabtree fell way short of expectations the Ravens had when they inked him to a three-year deal last March. This misfire was eerily similar to what the Ravens experienced with Jeremy Maclin in 2017.
Despite Crabtree finishing the year with disappointing numbers, along with both Eric DeCosta and Greg Roman expressing desires to find receivers suited for working in a Jackson-led offense, it seemed reasonable to assume that Crabtree would return to the Ravens for a second season. John Brown appears destined to test the free agent market, meaning that Willie Snead is currently the only receiver on the Ravens roster who’s name carries some weight around the NFL.
Crabtree’s release means that the Ravens plan to reshape the wide receiving corps for the second year in a row. Crabtree, Snead, and Brown were the three names brought in last offseason after the Ravens departed with Maclin, Mike Wallace, and eventually Breshad Perriman.
It’s fair to feel skeptical over how the Ravens plan on going about rebuilding the receiver position. A new challenge they’ll be faced with this offseason is trying to convince free agent receivers including Golden Tate, Donte Moncrief, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Cordarrelle Patterson, and others to play in an offense where they’ll be required to block more than they’ve been accustomed to in the past. Based on how little of a return the Ravens have gotten from recent free agent receiver signings, do they even want to go down that road again?
The Ravens may have to, because they also have not done a respectable job of drafting receivers. Both wideouts the Ravens selected in last year’s draft, Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, didn’t play a single snap in the regular season. Maybe DeCosta changes the scouting methods the Ravens use when looking at receivers using analytics. But until there’s an example of the Ravens drafting a receiver and that guy turning into a play-maker, there’s no reason to feel any different about the team’s shortcomings in developing pass-catchers.
Regardless of how DeCosta plans on re-tooling the receiving core, he has a lot of work to do. Even if Crabtree had returned, drafting a wide receiver early was high on the “to-do” list. Now with Crabtree gone, that priority becomes magnified.
Just like last year, the Ravens receiving core is awfully slim heading into the offseason. The difference now is Baltimore has a rookie quarterback to build around. Hopefully the front office hits a home run in the draft and gives Jackson a dangerous threat in the passing game that was never home grown during Flacco’s tenure.
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