They did it again.
They freaking did it again.
First of all, many thanks to the Baltimore Ravens for breaking up the monotony of a weekend spent screaming at our friends on social media who post pictures that prove they’re not distancing themselves enough for our liking and making jokes about everyone who has scooped up insane amounts of toilet paper whilst secretly asking ourselves, “We DO have enough, right?”
Thankfully, the Ravens briefly distracted us from pretending to be experts about a topic we’ve read like four internet stories about by … doing it again.
You don’t really need to read a column about the pending acquisition of veteran edge rusher Calais Campbell from the Jaguars. You already know how to feel. It was just another savvy move from an organization that continues to make them. If you didn’t see it coming (and a lot of folks did), you probably should have.
If you’ve read my work before, then one, Hi Dad, thanks for the constant support, and two, you’re probably expecting me to be setting up some sort of swerve so telegraphed that you assumed Andy Dalton had written the lede. But that’s not really coming this time.
Look, I have no idea how the acquisition of Calais Campbell is going to pan out. A minimal amount of scrutiny we ought to consider is that he’ll be 34 years old when (if? Oh no, it’s definitely “if”) the season begins. Further fair scrutiny suggests that after his overwhelming career year in 2017 (14.5 sacks), his numbers have dropped off in each of the last two years, posting only 6.5 a year ago. We can debate the circumstances that lead to those numbers (including his role in a defense with Yannick Ngakoue and Josh Allen developing behind him), but they’re certainly fair to point out as again, we exercise just the minimum amount of scrutiny.
It IS possible that the Ravens won’t strike gold this time as they have in past savvy acquisitions. Remembering they paid the exact same price (a fifth-round pick) to acquire Marcus Peters last season creates a recency bias that allows us to believe the Ravens have never made a bad pick-for-player swap, forgetting that Eugene Monroe did almost nothing in Ravens uniform and that if I asked you before you read this column what a “Chris Givens” was, you would have probably guessed it was once Garth Brooks’ alter ego.
Campbell MIGHT be reaching the downside of his career. Further thoughtless scrutiny would suggest that no football team would just give a player away for a fifth-round pick if they know that player is still at the height of their ability. That’s not entirely true, of course. Is was widely believed that Campbell could be released for cap reasons this offseason, so the fifth-round pick is actually more than the Jaguars could have gotten in exchange for him. But that doesn’t mean that an otherwise reliable player might not suddenly run into injury issues or just reach the age where his skills start to slip. That’s totally possible.
But Campbell has remained a dominant run stopper even as his sack totals have dropped the last couple of seasons. Given that the cost was only a fifth-round pick (and yes, almost criminally stolen money considering it was the pick they acquired when they dealt Kaare Vedvik to the Vikings), whatever minimal risk that has to be considered when scrutinizing the player is overwhelmingly worth it.
The $20 million guaranteed the Ravens gave him would certainly be a tough pill to swallow if Campbell doesn’t pan out, but it’s not necessarily a cap killer either. The Ravens are taking it on during the frame in which they don’t necessarily HAVE to pay Lamar Jackson big dollars. The new CBA guarantees that if Jackson continues to be the player we’ve seen him be so far (or even something close), they’ll have to pay him big dollars starting in his fifth season. He could attempt to force the team’s hand after the 2020 campaign (his third), which is what’s expected from the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes this year. But there remains a small time frame in which Jackson’s minimal cost makes other “risks” (and again, Campbell is such a slight risk it’s almost unfair to suggest it) even more worthwhile.
That said, the acquisition of Campbell shouldn’t be considered the singular solution for the Ravens at pass rush. This shouldn’t now guarantee that the team will trade recently-tagged linebacker Matthew Judon before the season for high picks. The Ravens need Campbell AND another high-level pass rusher. His presence would probably help the development of a younger player like Jaylon Ferguson, but that’s not a risk a Super Bowl contender should be taking. You shouldn’t need to have spent big money on that improv comedy education to know that this is a “yes and” situation.
Perhaps they’ll still end up trading Judon. But they should only do that if they’ve otherwise added another rusher they can feel confident will put up a big season.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a single loaf of wheat bread so I need to block out the next 7-8 hours to make it happen.