Just what in the heck is going on around here? A Maryland-based NFL team breaks out the dollars at the start of free agency and it’s not the Washington Redskins? Nope, guess again. The Redskins’ Interstate 95 north neighbor, the Baltimore Ravens, pulled off the headline move of the weekend when they snagged disgruntled Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin for a couple of mid-round draft picks and a handshake. The Ravens, never too shy to make a move, don’t usually play the monopoly game of the NFL offseason. But when they do take a gamble, it’s usually a big one.

From Shannon Sharpe to Willis McGahee and even the late Steve McNair, Baltimore has shown it will spend wisely on high-profile free agents. It’s that same method that has allowed the Ravens to stay ultra-competitive among the Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers-type contenders of the AFC.

Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome (the NFL’s first Black general manager) has made some brilliant moves during his tenure with Baltimore, and whenever he senses his team is a piece or two from seriously competing, he adds more ice to his veins, twists his cap back and rolls the dice with no hesitation.

The Ravens have been ousted from the playoffs the last two years by the eventual AFC Super Bowl representative. With a blossoming offense and still stingy defense, Newsome patched up the one sore spot he felt was holding his club back: the receiver position. That’s Newsome for you. He builds his team from the draft up then patches his weak positions with proven veterans who can still bring it on gameday. The only thing that’s stood between Newsome and a few more Super Bowl titles was a problematic quarterback position the city of Baltimore believes he’s since rectified.

The likes of Boldin and the newly acquired Donte Stallworth may not be enough to get Baltimore back to the promise land, but it’s enough to put Joe Flacco and company back in the position of Super Bowl favorites again. Baltimore’s team-building formula may not be ideal but it’s certainly one that Washington should scrutinize.

If they were to ever make a music video of NFL owners “making it rain” at a club, the guy in the tank top, khakis and cash falling out his pocket would be none other then Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Snyder’s “spend-or-die” approach in recent seasons has netted him no trophies or titles just losing seasons, ridicule and mockery from critics and fans. His $100 million pickup of Albert Haynesworth at the start of free agency last year was lauded more for the acquisition’s price tag than its judiciousness. Instead of bolstering an aging and depleted offensive line, Snyder added $100 million to a defense that finished fourth in the league the previous season. But that’s Snyder for you. It doesn’t matter what the team’s needs are, just reel in the best free agent on the market, make a PR splash and sell some tickets.

Operating at times with no blueprint or direction, Snyder’s hiring of head coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen may be arguably the best set of moves he’s ever made in his career as an owner. The team is now run by Allen and Shanahan, and it’s showing already.
Washington didn’t ring the dinner bell when free agency started this year, they simply signed versatile offensive lineman Artis Hicks to a quiet three-year deal to man the right side of the line. Washington’s interest in linemen Tony Pashos and Chad Clifton didn’t end in lucrative big dollar deals – both men signed with other teams – but it showed the Redskins are recommitted to building a winner with solid acquisitions at troubled positions, instead of free wheel spending on flashy players.

It may be a different approach from what Redskin fans are used to, but if Snyder and Washingtonians are looking for the formula of how to get back to being competitive, they don’t need to look far. A trip up Interstate 95 is all that’s needed to show them how it’s done.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO