The most debated move the Ravens made this offseason and arguably the biggest subtraction from their Super Bowl roster was the trade of gritty 32-year-old wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers.
Boldin never cracked 1,000 receiving yards in his three years in Baltimore, but he was quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target and the team’s leading receiver in each of the past three seasons. Boldin was traded after refusing to take a pay cut, something that owner Steve Bisciotti says was necessary, albeit very painful.
“To clean up our salary cap every year, it's the ones that you have to release as opposed to the ones that are unrestricted [free agents],” Bisciotti told our Jeff Zrebiec yesterday. “Those will always be the toughest ones.”
Boldin’s leadership in the wide receivers room will not easily be replaced, but how will the Ravens replace his on-field production? Coach John Harbaugh shed a little light on that this morning.
“We’ve got some possibilities of guys that can fill that spot,” Harbaugh told Zrebiec and other reporters at the NFL’s owners meetings. “Tandon Doss, obviously, is a guy. David Reed is a guy in the mix there. Deonte Thompson is a guy. Tommy Streeter is a guy in the mix. … Jacoby [Jones] is going to step up and Torrey [Smith has] got to step up as always. Any time you lose a great player it’s never incumbent on one person to fill that spot. We’ve got to do it as a team. The whole group has to fill in that spot and try to become better as a group.”
He also said the Ravens will “probably add somebody through the draft.” The Ravens will have 12 draft picks this year.
Boldin did most of his damage during the playoffs while working out of the slot. Tight end Dennis Pitta could see his role expand out of the slot and the Ravens could use more two tight-end sets with fellow tight end Ed Dickson also on the field. But when it comes to one of the young wide receivers trying to do his best Boldin impersonation out of the slot, Harbaugh said Doss is “the first guy you look at in there.”
Drafted in the fourth round in 2011 -- as legend has it, he was hand-picked by Flacco -- Doss caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown last season. He had 61 yards after the catch on those receptions. Interestingly, despite that modest production, the Ravens kept giving him opportunities in the second half of the season, though Doss was held without a catch in the postseason.
The Ravens drafted and have been grooming Doss to eventually replace Boldin as a slot receiver, and it sounds like he will be given a chance to seize that role in offseason workouts and training camp. Some fans have questioned the skills of Doss in the past, but give the guy a break. He is just now entering his third year.
Another player I often get asked about on Twitter is David Reed, whom the Ravens recently signed to a modest two-year contract. Reed showed promise as a kick returner in 2011, but his two lost fumbles played prominently in an ugly loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He was benched for a few weeks, and shortly after his return to the lineup, Reed tore his ACL, an injury that sidelined him for the first couple months of the 2012 season.
Harbaugh spoke specifically about why the Ravens kept Reed.
“He was restricted, so it was either the tender or sign a two-year deal and he signed a two-year deal that we thought was reasonable and gives him a chance to prove himself,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy that’s been around for three years now and he’s worked really hard and overcome some injuries. And guys come into their own. You know, you look at Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe and those guys. I think David’s got a chance to be one of those guys that really comes into his own right now. He’s really motivated right now.”
Harbaugh said that Reed will also be in the mix to replace Boldin in the slot, as will Thompson, whom the team signed as a rookie free agent after he went undrafted last April. His speed impressed in training camp last year, and interestingly, Bisciotti name-dropped Thompson in his chat with Zrebiec yesterday.
Streeter, a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, might not have made the 53-man roster had he not been placed on injured reserve in August. But he has intriguing size and could be a potential red-zone threat. He will probably exclusively play on the outside, though, as agility is usually not the forte of 6-foot-5 wide-outs.
Those four youngsters, along with LaQuan Williams and a potential draft pick in next month’s draft, should make for a hot competition in training camp this summer. It sure sounds like Harbaugh is looking forward to it.
“Yeah, it will be really competitive,” Harbaugh said over breakfast. “Wide receiver will be fun to watch.”