In fewer than 24 hours, the Baltimore Ravens lost Jamal Lewis and replaced him with Willis McGahee. That's what I call trading up, and it's what makes the Ravens one of the best in the business at evaluating personnel.
A year ago, it was Baltimore that figured it had to solve a headache at quarterback. So it acquired Steve McNair and finished a franchise-best 13-3.
|Willis McGahee wasn't always happy during his time in Buffalo. (AP)|
And so will McGahee.
Losing him is a blow to Buffalo, though you'll have a tough time convincing fans who like watching their club in Orchard Park instead of Toronto. McGahee is a versatile back, someone who can push the pile or turn the corner; a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield; and someone who has years left on a promising career.
"He's a strong inside runner who can spill to the outside," said one AFC personnel director. "He has power, size and he's tough. He catches the ball well, and he can pass block. Baltimore likes to run the ball, and I'm sure they will give it to him a lot. And that's good because this is someone who gets better the more he does it. I think they got the back they needed."
OK, so he's not a burner. He's an improvement over Lewis, who once was one of the premier backs in the business. But he absorbed so many hits in his career that, at 27, he seems worn out and little more than ordinary -- which is one of the reasons Baltimore let him walk.
Look, Lewis has been productive over the years and was good to Baltimore. In 2003, he averaged 5.3 yards a carry, set a league record with 295 yards rushing against Cleveland and wound up with 2,066 for the season -- the second-highest total in league history.
But the past two years, he looked nothing like the back who was the 2003 Offensive Player of the Year. He averaged 3.5 yards a carry over those seasons, disappeared from games and produced only four with more than 100 yards.
In 2003, he produced 12.
Now let's look at McGahee. There is far less wear on the tires for the fifth-year back, partly because he missed his entire rookie season while rehabilitating a serious knee injury.
He's a significant upgrade for a team that can't and won't rely on the right arm of McNair to save it. The Ravens always have been about relying on an effective running game and suffocating defense, and they can stick to that formula now that they, in effect, swapped Lewis for McGahee.