Beyond Ryan's homecoming, a subplot worth watching centers around Ravens backup quarterback Troy Smith.
Ever since Joe Flacco took control of Baltimore's QB position last season, Smith's been the subject of lots of idle trade speculation -- the rumors cranked up this offseason, too, as the Ravens searched for some wide receiver help. And while the Ravens have never outwardly expressed a desire to deal Smith, there's a chance that Smith's reaching the end of the line in Baltimore.
I know what some of you are thinking (and what a couple of rabid Ravens fans are probably already typing in the comments): Trading Troy Smith doesn't make sense. He's 25, still developing, a restricted free agent after this year, and the obvious choice as Flacco's backup currently.
Fair points all.
The smart money -- both figuratively and literally -- points to Baltimore keeping Smith. He brings just a $495,000 cap hit this year, and the Ravens would get to decide whether to keep him in 2010.
Sometimes it pays to think outside the box, though.
Impact trades are relatively rare in the NFL, as it takes a substantial wow-factor on each side to get the job done. But Smith's potential is the type of intangible that could convince a team like, oh I don't know, Denver to pull the trigger on a deal that sends, let's say, Brandon Marshall out in a deal. Smith wouldn't bring a player of Marshall's caliber back in a one-for-one deal, but it would be a start.
In the first week of the preseason, Baltimore's coaching staff turned Smith loose -- he threw 30 passes in the Ravens' 23-0 win, connecting on 14 of them for 200 yards and a touchdown. While Flacco figures to see a decent amount of time on Monday night, Smith will get his shot in the rotation as well. And much like Minnesota showcased Tarvaris Jackson on Friday in hopes of opening some scouts' eyes, the Ravens may do the same with Smith again.
Any trade is more likely to happen sooner rather than later. Teams must cut their rosters to 75 by Sept. 1, then to 53 by Sept. 5 -- which is why most teams will have their two-deep more or less intact by the the third preseason game.
The Ravens are also currently carrying five quarterbacks: Flacco, Smith, John Beck, Cleo Lemon and rookie Drew Willy. The last two were signed after Beck went down with an injury earlier in camp, but he has since returned. All, save Willy, have NFL game experience. For the Ravens, the question right now is, if Flacco went down, would keeping Smith give the team a substantially better shot at winning than Beck or Lemon?
Some would argue yes. I'd say no -- if Flacco goes down, the Ravens' offense is going to be in trouble, regardless. Even as I sit here arguing for Smith's value to other teams, I can't imagine a scenario where he leads Baltimore to the Super Bowl this year. Beyond that, I can't envision him supplanting Flacco as Baltimore's starter again in the near future, either.
I say that for one reason only, and that's to further the argument that the most value Baltimore can get out of Smith in 2009 would be to move him elsewhere.
Baltimore's phone may not be ringing off the hook yet. But if Smith turns in a strong performance against the Jets, and continues to flash his athletic ability, that may be enough to bring some calls in.
If the Ravens decide to listen, Smith might be wearing a different uniform soon.