Why keeping Jacoby Jones was so critical

The Baltimore Ravens can't bring back the same team and expect to get back to the playoffs. They still need to add a free safety, wide receiver, center and middle linebacker.

But, if the Ravens were going to re-sign another one of their players after tight end Dennis Pitta and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, it had to be wide receiver-returner Jacoby Jones, who reached a four-year, $12 million deal while visiting the New York Giants on Wednesday.

Keeping Jones was more important than holding onto defensive tackle Arthur Jones or inside linebacker Daryl Smith. Yes, you read that correctly. Just hear me out.

Jacoby Jones is a game-changer. When the ball was in his hands, he impacted more games than any other Raven over the past two years. If it was a big win, Jones usually had a hand in it.

In the 2012 regular season, his 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown helped the Ravens beat the Cowboys and his 63-yard punt return for a touchdown was the Ravens' only touchdown in a win at the Steelers. The Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl that season if not for Jones' Mile High Miracle in the AFC divisional playoff game and his two touchdowns (including the best spin move in Super Bowl history) in New Orleans.

During the Ravens' four-game win streak in 2013, he made an impact each victory: a 66-yard touchdown catch against the Jets; 176 total yards against the Steelers; a 77-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Vikings; and six catches for 80 yards including a third-down conversion on the game-winning drive at the Lions.

Jones isn't consistent, but he's clutch. The Ravens could've signed another returner like Devin Hester and Trindon Holliday. Right now, Jones is better than both of them. Jones' five kickoff returns for touchdowns since 2009 are tied with Percy Harvin for the most in the NFL (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Based on Jones' contract (which is similar to Dexter McCluster's three-year, $12 million deal), the Ravens aren't going to make the same mistake of going into the season thinking Jones is a No. 2 wide receiver. Once free agency and the draft are over, Jones could be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver, which is exactly what he is. Line him outside a dozen times and let him go deep.

There will be times when Jones will frustrate the Ravens, and the team knows that. Jones failed his conditioning test at last year's training camp after spending an offseason on Dancing With The Stars. He was involved in a brawl on a party bus last September and was hurt when he was hit over the head by a stripper wielding a champagne bottle.

The bottom line is the Ravens are a better team with Jones than without him. His highlight reel proves it.