The Lamar Jackson contract saga isn’t the only drama surrounding the Ravens these days.
After taking exception to a tweet that included comments made by general manager Eric DeCosta about the organization’s shortcomings at wide receiver, Rashod Bateman fired back via Twitter that the organization needs to “stop pointing the finger at us” as well as quarterback Lamar Jackson and “blame the one you let do this.” The 2021 first-round pick later deleted the tweet and apologized, and DeCosta — speaking at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday — had been complimentary of Bateman, who suffered a season-ending foot injury last October and has played in just 18 games over his first two seasons.
“He’s doing well. We text quite a bit,” DeCosta said. “I know he’s very, very excited [and] champing at the bit to get into the offseason program. We’re very excited about him as a player. I can’t wait to see what he can do this year.”
It’s hardly a secret that wide receivers didn’t thrive or enjoy playing in Greg Roman’s offensive system, a reason why former No. 1 wide receiver Marquise Brown requested a trade last year and the Ravens ultimately parted with their offensive coordinator at the conclusion of the 2022 season. At the same time, the individual wide receivers themselves shouldn’t be absolved for their lackluster play.
The collective truth hurts, and the entire organization must do better at wide receiver, something that’s long been a blind spot for Baltimore. The Ravens believe hiring former University of Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken will be a step in the right direction, but there’s much more work to be done.
“It’s a challenging position to evaluate in different ways. If I had an answer, that means I would probably have some better receivers, I guess,” said DeCosta, who’s drafted five wide receivers in the first four rounds of the draft since becoming general manager in 2019. “We keep trying. I think there are a lot of things that go along with that position. Sometimes it is tied to the quarterback, and I think it’s tied to things like durability. It’s tied to a lot of things. We’re going to keep swinging.
“There have been some guys that have been successful players for us that were draft picks. We’ve never really hit on that All-Pro type of guy, which is disappointing I would say, but it’s not for lack of effort. We believe in what we do. We believe in our scouting. We believe in the system that we have – the scouting system that we have. It’s one of those anomalies that I really can’t explain other than to say we’re not going to stop trying.”
Bateman also mentioned the organization needing to “keep us healthy,” which remains a sensitive topic on the heels of Baltimore parting ways with head strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders last week. On Wednesday, the NFL Players Association released a team report card in which Ravens players graded the organization’s strength coaches a league-worst “F-“ and the weight room and training room in the bottom half of the 32 teams. The report noted how all but two teams — the other being Atlanta — gave their strength coaches “fairly positive reviews” and a league-low 36% of Ravens players believed they received an individualized strength plan.
In replacing Saunders, the Ravens promoted Scott Elliott — entering his fifth season with the organization — to the title of strength and conditioning coordinator and promoted Anthony Watson, Ron Shrift, and Kaelyn Buskey to the titles of strength and conditioning coaches.
Saunders had drawn some criticism from ex-Ravens players in the past and was suspended for a month in 2020 for violating the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols, which coincided with a team-wide virus outbreak. After being complimentary of Saunders in a statement released by the team last week, head coach John Harbaugh again praised his work while speaking to local reporters in Indianapolis on Wednesday before the NFLPA’s team report card was published.
It’s a sharp contrast from social media comments made by several former players, a list including Bateman, four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, retired defensive end Derek Wolfe, 2015 third-round defensive tackle Carl Davis, 2017 undrafted wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, and 2017 undrafted linebacker Bam Bradley.
Injuries remain a major source of frustration in the wake of Baltimore’s historic run of ailments in 2021, but it’s also fair to note the Ravens ranked in the top half of the league or better in fewest adjusted games lost — an injury metric developed and tracked by Football Outsiders — in four of the previous five seasons correlating with Saunders’ arrival in 2016. No matter the quality of your strength and training staffs, injuries are an inevitable and unfortunate part of football that frequently impact careers, which makes it difficult to separate perception from reality in some cases.
But the high volume of players speaking out privately through the NFLPA’s report card and publicly on social media reflects poorly on the organization and suggests a disconnect with players. Considering just how unpopular Saunders appeared to be, the Ravens’ decision to employ him for two more seasons after his 2020 suspension becomes all the more puzzling.
And it will certainly be interesting to see how Ravens players respond to Elliott and the other incumbent strength coaches in their new roles moving forward.