Ravens upgrade receiving corps by signing Houshmandzadeh

The Ravens' relentless mission of building a top-flight passing attack continued Monday, when the team reached a one-year agreement with free-agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and traded former first-round pick Mark Clayton to the St. Louis Rams.

In a span of six months, the Ravens gutted one of the thinnest wide receiver groups and built one of the NFL's best for quarterback Joe Flacco. A team that once didn't have a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver now has three who have headlined passing games at some point in their careers.

Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason have all produced 100-catch seasons, and each caught at least 73 passes last season.

And they all share these traits: They're physical and sure-handed.

"It should present a little bit of a picture about the type of offense and the type of a team we want to build," coach John Harbaugh said. "Those are our kind of guys, and it's good to put good players out there together."

The only criticism of this group is the lack of a deep threat. Boldin, Mason and Houshmandzadeh are considered possession receivers.

They'll win battles for contested passes, but they aren't known for beating cornerbacks down the field. None has a career average of more than 13 yards per catch.

The Ravens' fastest receiver, Donte' Stallworth, is out for at least another six weeks with a broken left foot.

"You know how you stretch the field? You run deep," Harbaugh said. "They've got to cover you -- especially when you have guys running down the field that can catch the ball. So you run deep and you throw it to them. If they don't cover them, they'll catch the ball and they'll score. So I guess what I'm saying is I think it's a little overblown. You put good players on the field and they're threats."

Because of the receivers' similar styles, no one linked Houshmandzadeh to the Ravens. But it's a low-risk move for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Houshmandzadeh, 32, agreed to the veteran minimum ($855,000) two days after he was released by the Seattle Seahawks, who will pay him $7 million this season.

A Pro Bowl selection in 2007, Houshmandzadeh reportedly chose the Ravens over the Oakland Raiders. He will sign with the Ravens after passing his physical today and play in Monday's season opener at the New York Jets, according to Harbaugh.

Bringing in Houshmandzadeh is the latest move at wide receiver for the Ravens, who traded for Boldin, re-signed Mason and added Stallworth this year.

"He's another proven weapon for our offense -- a big receiver with good hands and toughness," general manager Ozzie Newsome said of Houshmandzadeh. "The one other thing that every coach and player we talked with about him indicated is that T.J. is a driven player with an excellent work ethic."

Last season, Houshmandzadeh caught a team-best 79 passes for 911 yards and three touchdowns. Before signing a five-year, $40 million deal with Seattle, he had three straight seasons of 90 or more catches for the Cincinnati Bengals.

During his time with the Bengals, Houshmandzadeh continually hurt the Ravens. In 13 meetings, he averaged six catches for 76 yards.

The Ravens had expressed interest in Houshmandzadeh when he was a free agent last offseason, according to Newsome.

"When I heard the news, I said, 'Oh man, we've got something great going on over here,'" said cornerback Josh Wilson, who played with Houshmandzadeh in Seattle last season. "Everybody knows what type of player he is, that's not a question."

Flacco, Boldin, Mason, tight end Todd Heap and running back Ray Rice weren't made available to reporters Monday to talk about the changes on offense.

Harbaugh said he was "excited" to have the chance to add a top-notch receiver just a week before starting the regular season. The Seahawks decided to release Houshmandzadeh in favor of younger players such as Mike Williams, Deon Butler and Golden Tate.

"We're sure very thrilled to have him here," Harbaugh said. "I feel good about the fact that -- as an organization -- we've been very aggressive in trying to make our team better."

Harbaugh declined to explain why the Ravens brought in Houshmandzadeh and got rid of Clayton. It is believed the Ravens will exchange picks with the Rams in a later round of the 2011 draft for Clayton, who could become St. Louis' No. 1 receiver.

While Clayton is a faster receiver, Houshmandzadeh is the more consistent one. Houshmandzadeh has averaged 93 catches the past four seasons. Clayton, the 22nd overall pick in the 2005 draft, has put up declining reception totals the past three seasons. His 34 receptions last season were a career low.

Still, Clayton had beaten out Stallworth in the preseason to be the Ravens' No. 3 receiver.

"Mark is a good person who did everything he could to help the Ravens on and off the field," Newsome said. "In the end, we have to do what we think is best for the team, but letting Mark go hurts. He was first-class all the way, even when we met with him about the trade. This is a tough part of the business."

Clayton's best season came with quarterback Steve McNair in 2006, when he led the team with 939 receiving yards. In 2008, Clayton led the Ravens with an average of 17.1 yards per catch.

But he had a critical drop in a 27-21 loss at New England in the regular season last year and made only one catch in the playoffs.

"Mark was just one of the most special guys we've had here -- one of our top leaders," Harbaugh said.

Clayton did not return phone calls from The Baltimore Sun.

Players were surprised to hear that the Ravens parted ways with Clayton a week before the season opener.

"That's crazy," rookie receiver David Reed said. "Mark is a great receiver, a great role model and a great teacher. It was sad to see him go."

It's interesting to note that the Ravens' acquisition of Houshmandzadeh came hours after the Jets reached a new deal with Darrelle Revis, which ended the Pro Bowl cornerback's holdout. Jets fans aren't the only ones who are excited that Revis will be playing the Ravens on Monday night.

"I'm glad they got him," Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain said, "so there won't be no excuses now."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jamisonhensley

Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

2009 top three WRs Receiver Rec.Yds.Avg.TDs Derrick Mason731,02814.17Mark Clayton3448014.12Kelley Washington3443112.72 2010 top three WRs Receiver Rec.YdsAvg.TDs Anquan Boldin841,02412.24Derrick Mason731,02814.17T.J.Houshmandzadeh7991111.53 Note: All statistics are 2009

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