OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens signed three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Dez Bryant to the practice squad on Tuesday.
Bryant gets a chance to come to a Super Bowl contender in Baltimore (5-1) and show the football world that he has something left at the age of 31. The Ravens get a much-needed physical and emotional presence in a lagging passing game while taking no risk (or financial commitment) at all.
Dez Bryant has the size and strength to fight for contested balls, something the Ravens have lacked this season. Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire
Here are the biggest questions surrounding Bryant’s comeback.
The Ravens are coming off their bye with the 31st-ranked passing attack and the least productive wide receivers in the league. Lamar Jackson has thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions when targeting wide receivers this season, which is a significant dropoff to his numbers when throwing to tight ends and running backs (eight touchdowns and no interceptions). The hope was for Miles Boykin, a third-round pick from a year ago, would take a significant step forward in his second season and become a solid complement to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. But Boykin has failed to gain any chemistry with Jackson, and their recent miscommunications have become a topic of discussion during the bye. If nothing else, Bryant’s arrival could motivate the likes of Boykin and Willie Snead.
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When will Bryant play?
It really depends on how quickly Bryant can get into football shape. The last time Bryant played in an NFL game, Jackson was throwing touchdown passes at Louisville. It seems highly unlikely Bryant would get elevated to the active roster for Sunday’s showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Nov. 8 game at Indianapolis is a more realistic target, but there are no guarantees. That’s why Bryant was signed to practice squad and not 53-man roster. It’s the ultimate prove-it situation.
What’s the best-case scenario?
Bryant becomes Jackson’s No. 3 option, behind Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. He provides what Baltimore’s passing game is lacking: a physical target on the outside who fights to win those contested catches. This season, the Ravens have made 10 catches on 26 tight-window targets (when the distance between the receiver and nearest defender is less than one yard at the arrival of the pass). Boykin has not made a catch on five such throws this year. Bryant, who is 6-2, also brings size, experience and a fiery edge. Of the six receivers on Baltimore’s 53-man roster, only one is taller than 6-1 and no one is older than 27.
What’s the worst-case scenario?
The Ravens have a need at wide receiver and they are taking a flier on former All-Pro Dez Bryant. Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Bryant gets cut after struggling to get separation or gets hurt before he can throw up his first X in Baltimore. No one in the Ravens organization believes they’re getting the same Dez Bryant who was one of the most dynamic offensive players in Cowboys history. The Ravens are in a situation where they have a need at wide receiver and they don’t have much salary cap room to really address it. Why wouldn’t Baltimore take a flier on a highly motivated and strong-willed personality like Bryant?
How will this realistically end?
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The Ravens have a really good track record with 30-something wide receivers: Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. But this is really uncharted waters with Bryant as far as comebacks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger. Josh Gordon was the first and he was five years younger than Bryant when he did so. The truth is no one really knows how productive Bryant will be. No one should be rushing to add Bryant to their fantasy teams. But no one should be writing him off just yet, either.