Monday, May 25, 2009

If Heap doesn't step up in '09 he'll step out in /10

Over the course of his eight seasons as a Raven, Todd Heap has played in all 16 regular season games five times including 2008. Prior to 2008 when suiting up every Sunday Heap averaged 68 catches, 787 yards and 6 TD’s despite playing in a below average offense with subpar quarterback play nearly every season.

Last season, a very pedestrian one at best for Heap, the then 28 year old tight end had 35 catches for 403 yards and 3 scores.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way – not in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system.

Cameron’s offense features the tight end. He was instrumental in developing a raw talent, a former basketball player out of Kent State and shaping him into an All-Pro. Given his success with that raw talent named Antonio Gates, Cameron’s partnering with Heap seemed like a match made in tight end heaven.

Yet as we all witnessed, it didn’t shake out that way.

Heap apologists will point to his injuries as a culprit and remind us of his willingness to play through pain as evidenced by his participation in the Divisional Playoff against the Titans in January. They will point to the many vicious hits he has absorbed hauling in Kyle Boller passes that were too high or too far behind him enabling defenders to deliver vicious hits upon his exposed and defenseless body.
The same apologists will add that Heap was held in far too often to block in ’08 pointing to pass protection deficiencies on the right side of the offensive line.

Clearly the hits take their toll. It’s difficult to think of a player who has consistently absorbed the shots that Heap has taken. How many times have we seen a defensive back up end Heap at the ankles sending him head over heels? Is it the way he runs? Is it his body lean when carrying the football or is it the limited amount of space he or any Ravens’ receiver has to navigate within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage?

The Ravens offense has hardly been vertical for many seasons. They have been fairly predictable. Combine predictability with the inability to stretch the field and it represents an invitation for opposing defenses to compress the area around the line of scrimmage. The result is fewer yards after that catch and more bonecrushing hits. That in part is why the team during its recent history has been so unsuccessful throwing 6 yard passes on third and 10. Teams that can stretch the field will get those yards after the catch and the intended first down.

Not the Ravens. Instead they get battered and broken.

It takes a toll and one only needs to look at Heap for proof.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when Todd Heap was a spry rookie and Shannon Sharpe’s understudy. Today Heap plays like a veteran well into his 30’s. He’s slow off the line of scrimmage and he no longer possesses that above average speed for a man his size. He plods his way down the field. In better years linebackers had a difficult time staying with Heap and that forced safeties to support the backers in coverage. But that was then. Today his pedestrian receiving numbers have more to do with an inability to get open than simply his support in pass protection.

Was Willie Anderson really that much less effective on the right side than Adam Terry or Marshal Yanda or Tony Pashos or Orlando Brown? The right tackle position has never really been a strength or even remotely close to a strength of the offensive line. The truth be told, Heap’s declining productivity has less to do with blocking more and more to do with eroding skills.

In the NFL you must deliver value. If a player can’t justify his cap number, he will always be at risk.

If the Ravens release or trade Heap now, they would realize a cap savings of $1 million. Of course they would have to replace Heap particularly with the injury histories of backups L.J. Smith and Quinn Sypniewski. There’s a chance Sypniewski could end up on IR this season or even worse.

But can the Ravens find an adequate replacement at or near a cap number of $1 million? Maybe, maybe not but given Heap’s production in ’08 and his inability to get on the practice field during OTA’s it is at least possible that Heap could have already played his last down as a Raven. Let’s not forget that the Ravens were very interested in two tight ends early in the ’08 (Craig Stevens) and ’09 (Brandon Pettigrew) NFL Drafts.

Another factor weighing against Heap is that he doesn’t seem like a John Harbaugh kind of player. On a couple of occasions last season Harbaugh was seen chastising Heap on the sidelines for blown assignments. He also raised the ire of Cameron a few times.

It’s all about value and right now, Heap doesn’t deliver value – not with a $6.4 million cap number in ’09!

In 2010 assuming there is a salary cap, Heap is set to make $4 million in salary and has a Cap number of $6 million. If released he would only count $2.5 million against the Cap, so there would be a savings of $3.4 million. If the June 1 cap savings rule were to come back, they could release him and save $4 million against the Cap in 2010 (with dead money of $2 million), but would have to carry $568,000 in dead money against the 2011 cap.

Clearly Heap needs to step it up in ’09 assuming he’s still here. And if he doesn’t it will be his last season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

And unfortunately even for a fan favorite like Heap that is the cold hard reality of life in the NFL.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece dealing with an admittedly emotional topic. It was refreshing to see it laid out without the usual excuses being made that almost always accompanies anything dealing with Heap's lack of productivity & effectiveness in recent years.

It's also worth mentioning that even in years when it appears as if he's played in 16 games, it's deceiving because he might have been suited up and maybe he was even in the game for some snaps, but often he was pulled early and/or when he did stay in, he just wasn't that effective. All that adds up, as you point out, to a questionable value given his salary and cap cost.

Jerry B said...

Already opined on this topical subject. Agree that he's decidedly on the "downside" of his career; however, being a huge fan of his, I'd like to see him return to pro bowl form this year because, as you say, if he doesn't, he's.....history!

Harryos29 said...

harry o 29 May 26th
As much as I like TODD HEAP, I think it may be time to move on. I can't feel sorry for him..he has 3 children and should be set for life $$$$ ..financially. Maybe he has lost his ZEST for the game? I question the reliability of LJ SMITH and Quin Sypnewski.
I'm sure OZZIE will make the right call.

Anonymous said...

Harry...not to open another can of worms, but in order for anyone to be sure that Ozzie will make the right call, Ozzie would have had to make all the right calls in the past. And that simply is not the case. It baffles me every time I see those sort of blind faith statements regarding Ozzie Newsome. He's good, even very good, but he's clearly not infallible. I wish fans would take a more realistic approach when it comes to rooting for their teams. You're obviously a passionate, knowledgable fan, but sometimes it helps to see things clearly to take off the blinders. If anything, have faith in your own eyes and your own ability to watch and understand what's going on with your team.

John David from OM said...

Mr Anon--
It's simple. Harry has faith in Ozzie because, in your words, he's been "very good". Hence, Ozzie has earned respect and trust from the fans in Baltimore because he's done a "very good" job. It's not unreasonable to have trust in someone who has performed better than 90% of his peers over a fourteen year span, I don't think. And I think it's somewhat insulting to assume that Harry has blinders on because he's got faith in Ozzie Newsome. The results of our team (in comparison to most of the other teams in the league) speak for themselves.

Anonymous said...

To John David from OM:

The problem with your logic is that all it takes is a 10% margin of error to cost a team a divisional playoff spot. And anyone who's followed the Ravens since their inception knows that Ozzie Newsome has shown repeated lapses when it comes to the offense. As I already said, very good is NOT equal to being infallible. And to point that out, and to take that into consideration when looking towards the 2009 season is just common sense, even if it runs contary to blind faith homerism.

Scott said...

Okay, people. Heap played better in 2008 than we could have hoped. He didn't make many spectacular plays down the field, but he did stay at the line and help keep our rookie QB off of his back. That was infinitely more important last year than what his stats were. Review some game video, rarely was it Heap who allowed a defender to break past the line. And that is partly the reason why we have a franchise QB and not another Kyle Boller on our hands.

I am tired of people badmouthing Heap. The guy is tough as nails when he plays and never gives anything but his all. He is still a top TE in the NFL and will prove it this year now that Cam can open up the offense. I fully expect him to become a favorite target for Flacco now that the kid has a feel for the game.

I know Heap has been on and off of the IR for a couple years, but damn, show the guy a little faith and at least acknowledge the value of his contributions to the team.

Anonymous said...

"He played better in 2008 than we could have hoped."?????

OMG...I don't know how you define hope, but it's sure different than the way I do. Too f*ckin funny.