What Eric Weddle’s signing says about the 2016 Ravens
Only two things were certain about Eric Weddle as free agency approached: The All-Pro safety had played his last down for the San Diego Chargers, and he planned to move on to a title contender.
“I’ve got three to five years left in me,” Weddle said to Peter King of the MMQB in early March. “I want to go somewhere I have a chance to win a Super Bowl.”
To many, the Baltimore Ravens, fresh off a disappointing 5-11 season, fall short of meeting Weddle’s requirements. And yet, the veteran defensive back signed a four-year, $26 million deal with the team on Monday, filling the void in the secondary created by Ed Reed’s departure three seasons earlier.
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So what explains the disconnect between the public perception of the Ravens and that of the ring-chasing Weddle?
Though Baltimore’s struggles through 2015 obscure it, the team sits just one year removed from Super Bowl frontrunner status.
As September rolled around last year, Las Vegas odds makers pegged the Ravens as a 16-1 shot to take home the Lombardi Trophy. For context, only three AFC teams owned better odds, with the New England Patriots leading the conference at 8-1. Put simply, the experts believed Baltimore had more than enough firepower on both sides of the ball to make another title run.
Obviously, the Ravens fell far short of expectation. The team dropped six of its first seven games, losing a cavalcade of valuable players along the way. Before the end of November, Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs had landed on season-ending injured reserve, ending any hope of a second-half revival.
However, a closer look at the Ravens’ performance in 2015 reveals how close the team came to enjoying a successful season. Despite the attrition, Baltimore came within a single possession of tying or taking the lead in eight of the team’s 11 losses. As Football Outsiders has argued for years, a team’s record in close games tends to vary at random from year to year due to an unfortunate bounce, poor marking or any number of other variables that happen in football games. So while the Ravens won few of their close games last season, history says that their luck should even out over time.
In other words, the Ravens stand a lot closer to title contention than their 5-11 record suggests.
And that, among other reasons, explains why an aging star like Weddle would choose Baltimore to play out the final years of his career. Even in a competitive division like the AFC North, the talent that general manager Ozzie Newsome has collected along with the proven coaching staff headed by John Harbaugh gives the Ravens a chance to quickly return to respectability in short order.
The Ravens don’t enter this season as the favorites or anything close to it, a fact that holds some significance but doesn’t preclude the team from eluding expectations. After all, few expected Washington to conquer the NFC East a year ago. Likewise, the Ravens could prove the surprise team of 2016. Weddle is betting on it.
Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. He has bylines at SB Nation, Sports on Earth, and other outlets. He also serves as the senior writer and editor for Acme Packing Company, a Green Bay Packers blog.