Trying to improve a passing game that’s sputtered in recent weeks, the Ravens are turning to a big name from the past to potentially offer some help over the second half of the season.
Baltimore officially signed veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant to the practice squad on Tuesday after working out the former Dallas Cowboy a second time since the start of training camp. Bryant will turn 32 next week and hasn’t played in an NFL game since the end of the 2017 season, but the Ravens will hope a man who posted three straight 1,200-yard receiving seasons from 2012-14 has some juice left to help a passing offense that’s been inconsistent and too dependent on top wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. The Ravens hoped to see more progress from 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, but the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Notre Dame product has struggled to get on the same page with quarterback Lamar Jackson on a few occasions and has managed just 11 receptions for 122 yards despite playing 63 percent of Baltimore’s offensive snaps this season.
No Ravens wide receiver other than Brown has caught more than 11 passes this season while Baltimore enters Week 8 ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game and 22nd in passing yards per attempt. Football Outsiders ranks Baltimore 21st in its passing efficiency metric, which is down from the No. 1 spot last season.
With Bryant now part of the organization, the Ravens will be able to take an extended look to see how much the 6-foot-2, 220-pound veteran has left and how he could fit in the offense. Bryant hasn’t even practiced with an NFL team since tearing his Achilles tendon two days after signing with New Orleans in November of 2018, and there were concerns about his ability to separate from coverage after dealing with knee, foot, and ankle problems in his final years with the Cowboys. Ironically, Bryant admitted he turned down a multiyear offer from the Ravens in the spring of 2018, but he’ll now have the opportunity to develop chemistry with Jackson and potentially be part of a championship push after never advancing beyond the divisional round with Dallas.
“Obviously, Dez Bryant’s on Instagram and stuff like that, running his routes and competing against cornerbacks,” said Jackson when asked about Bryant’s first workout with the Ravens back in August. “He’s looking pretty good on social media, but if the front office likes him, we’ll have to see when he gets here.”
In his last NFL season in 2017, Bryant caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 16 games, but he averaged a career-low 12.1 yards per reception and just 6.3 yards per target, his lowest mark other than his injury-shortened 2015 campaign. The former first-round pick from Oklahoma State has caught 73 touchdowns in his pro career and was believed by many to be coveted by the Ravens before the Cowboys moved ahead to take Bryant with the 24th pick in that 2010 draft.
The Ravens will host Bryant’s former team for Thursday Night Football on Dec. 3.
To make room for Bryant on the practice squad, the Ravens released safety Marcus Gilchrist. That was a somewhat surprising choice after the veteran defensive back had been elevated from the practice squad for each of the last two games to play a combined 42 defensive snaps in the dime package.
On Tuesday, the Ravens designated rookie safety Geno Stone as one of their four protected players on the practice squad, perhaps a sign that he’ll be elevated to play and take Gilchrist’s role in the dime package against Pittsburgh on Sunday. Baltimore also protected defensive tackle Aaron Crawford, long snapper Nick Moore, and tight end Sean Culkin.