Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco sent Jeremy Maclin a text message last week when the free agent was in the middle of his visit with the Buffalo Bills. Flacco, a South Jersey resident, met Maclin a few times while the wide receiver was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Come on down here and see what Baltimore is like,” Flacco said he wrote in the message.
Less than two months earlier, Flacco supported his highly scrutinized receiving corps and said that he didn’t feel like the Ravens needed to draft or sign another pass catcher because they already enough talent on their roster. But that doesn’t mean the 10th-year quarterback wasn’t ready to embrace one or even two wide receiver additions.
After Tuesday’s start of the three-day mandatory minicamp, Flacco said he was excited about the addition of Maclin, who agreed to a two-year deal with the team Monday, and his interest was clearly piqued by the availability of Eric Decker, whose release from the rebuilding New York Jets became official Tuesday.
“Eric would be a great guy, too, especially losing Dennis (Pitta) and getting a guy who can go inside, go outside and can run and separate and do a lot of those things, ” Flacco said. “He’s been a great receiver and he’s played with some good quarterbacks. I’m sure he’s been coached up. Listen, I’ve seen what he can do. Anytime you add players like that, it’s going to be good for your team.”
It isn’t clear yet if the Ravens will be serious players for Decker, who made it through just three games last year because of hip and shoulder injuries but he’s otherwise been a picture of durability and production. Probably most impressive, Decker has 51 touchdowns in 81 games since 2011.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about whether the team will pursue the 30-year-old, saying it is general manager Ozzie Newsome’s decision.
“Ozzie is working really hard on that stuff right now,” Harbaugh said. “That is something that remains to be seen, but we are always (looking) for good players. We always want to add competition, but there are a lot of factors that go into that.”
What is clear is the Ravens already feel much better about their wide receiver group than they did last week. Maclin, 29, arrived in Baltimore Tuesday afternoon to sign a two-year deal that is worth as much as $11 million, according to NFL Network. He could be on the practice field as early as Wednesday.
The Ravens envision the former Eagle and Kansas City Chief, who is just one year removed from catching 86 passes for 1,088 yards and seven touchdowns, fitting in perfectly with outside speedsters Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman.
“He can have a big impact,” Harbaugh said. “He is a proven player, he knows how to play. He knows how to be effective in this specific passing game, which is a big plus. I expect him to be a great player.”
The Ravens still have other offensive questions and they don’t have much salary cap space to address them. Coming off too back-to-back seasons where they have failed to gain much traction on the ground, the Ravens badly need to discover their running game to take some pressure off of Flacco.
Their offensive line still is unsettled at right tackle, where the much-maligned James Hurst is currently the starter, and at center, where John Urschel, Ryan Jensen and Matt Skura are in the mix.
They have significant health questions at tight end with Benjamin Watson (Achilles) and Maxx Williams (knee) coming off significant surgeries and Crockett Gillmore dealing with a hamstring strain, the latest ailment to sideline the fourth-year tight end.
On top of that, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did not distinguish himself as a play caller after he took over for Marc Trestman last season.
However, the team’s lack of another proven commodity at wide receiver and their failure to add offensive players at skill positions, aside from running back Danny Woodhead, seemed to overwhelm those other concerns, at least among the fan base. Before the addition of Maclin, the Ravens had just three receivers on their roster who caught a pass in an NFL regular-season game last year.
Wallace is coming off his third career 1,000-yard season and Perriman has made play after play in the various offseason minicamps. The Ravens also believe that a few of their younger receivers, including Michael Campanaro and Chris Moore, are capable of stepping into bigger offensive roles.
“If you’ve been out here, you can definitely see that guys are playing well,” Flacco said. “They are playing really fast. They are playing confident. That’s all you can ask for. When we come out here and do it and rep it each day with the guys that are out there playing, you’re going to do nothing but get better and better and better.
“It’s like I said earlier, everybody is working really hard and we have a lot of guys that can play and be explosive. I think you can see that. I know you were able to see that today. Throughout the offseason, I’ve been able to see it. When you have the time back there to go through your read and do things, those guys are breaking open from defenders and getting downfield, it’s some exciting stuff.”
On Perriman specifically, Flacco said, “You can just see the confidence in his eyes. That’s the first thing. Then when you go out there, it’s kind of back to how I felt probably the first couple of practices his rookie year, when he was running by people. You could tell he had something. He’s back to that level running and his confidence is at an all-time high, I think. It’s exciting to see.”
Of course, Ravens officials understand there is some skepticism. Wallace faded in the second half last year. Perriman missed his rookie season with a knee injury and never got on the same page with Flacco last year. Campanaro has struggled to stay healthy and Moore played just 162 offensive snaps all last season and finished with seven catches.
That’s where Maclin comes in. He has a track record with 474 catches for 6,395 yards and 46 touchdowns in seven NFL seasons, and he has the ability to play both on the outside and in the slot.
“I’m not a scout or a coach, but I think he’s a pretty decent football player,” Woodhead said. “Any time that talent is added, I think it’s a good thing, because that’s going to help our team. Obviously, we trust the front office, the coaches and everyone. We’re the players, we’re going to do everything that we can do and we trust them to bring in guys like Jeremy. I think everyone is excited. It’s just going to be important to us as a team to gel together. I think we have an opportunity to have a good team.”