When general manager Ozzie Newsome spoke to the media at last month’s “State of the Ravens” news conference, he did everything but guarantee that the organization would add the type of pass catcher that it needs before the start of the 2014 season.
“I think we’ve identified the type of player that we’re looking for,” Newsome said. “That player will be available ... whether it’s in free agency, whether he’s a cap casualty, whether it’s in the draft or whether it’s through trade. No, there is no reason that he might not be here at the beginning of the season, but I always try to leave myself a little leeway to give us a chance to get it right.”
For the past two offseasons -- even in 2012 when Anquan Boldin was still on the roster -- there was always talk about the Ravens adding a big-play receiver. However, the Ravens prioritized other positions, choosing instead to find wide receivers in either the late rounds of the draft (Tommy Streeter and Aaron Mellette) or make relatively modest free-agent expenditures (Jacoby Jones and Brandon Stokley).
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That is expected to change this offseason. Newsome is too polished and savvy to make any guarantees, but there’s no question that as early as last month, he was already well aware of the number of wide receiver options who could be available to the Ravens this offseason.
According to Pro Football Talk, there are currently 54 wide receivers who are expected to be either restricted or unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins March 11, creating what the website described as a “buyer’s market.” That number figures to grow, as well, as teams open up salary space by cutting some veterans.
The list of potential free-agent wide receivers is expected to include Eric Decker (Denver Broncos), Julian Edelman (New England Patriots), Golden Tate (Seattle Seahawks), James Jones (Green Bay Packers), Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles).
Boldin, who Ravens fans would love to welcome back, will also be a free agent, though NFL Network reported last night that it expects him to re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers. In the coming days, veteran wide receivers like Nate Burleson (Detroit Lions), Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys) and Sidney Rice (Seahawks) could join that list if they are made salary cap casualties by their respective teams.
Then, there is the draft, which boasts of one of the deepest and most talented wide receiver classes in years. On the ESPN draft rankings, eight receivers are listed among the top 50 players in the draft. Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. projects nine receivers and two tight ends to go in the first round of his latest mock draft.
While Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is supposed to be taken long before the Ravens are on the clock with either the 16th or 17th overall pick -- their exact position will be decided in a coin toss with the Cowboys at the NFL scouting combine later this month -- the Ravens will have plenty of other pass-catching options.
Mike Evans (Texas A&M), Marqise Lee (USC), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU) are among the wide receivers who are currently projected to go in the first round. Tight ends Eric Ebron (North Carolina) and Jace Amaro (Texas Tech) are potential first-round picks, as well.
Newsome wouldn’t reveal exactly the type of receiver that the organization is looking to add, but it should be pretty obvious looking at the composition of the roster. Torrey Smith is a proven outside deep threat. Jacoby Jones, if he is re-signed, fits the same mold. In his rookie season, Marlon Brown showed some promise as a threat in the red zone, but he’s still a relatively raw route runner.
The Ravens could use a physical and explosive receiver to work underneath, a player capable of making tough catches and breaking tackles en route to big plays. In a perfect world, think Boldin with a little more speed.
Edelman has many of those characteristics. Evans and Lee are projected to, as well. There may not be a perfect fit, but at the very least, the Ravens will have a plethora of options, and a general manager focused on getting another weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco.