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Ravens news, notes and opinions on Andre Johnson, franchise tag and more

Ravens news, notes and opinions on Andre Johnson, franchise tag and more
Andre Johnson makes a play against Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin in December. Could the veteran star receiver be a fit in Baltimore? (Bob Levey, Getty Images)

From Derrick Mason to Anquan Boldin to Steve Smith, the Ravens have a history of acquiring big-name wide receivers late in their careers and benefiting from them having productive seasons. That's why not long after the Houston Chronicle's report last night that long-time Houston Texans star wide out Andre Johnson will either be traded or released, the speculation started immediately that Baltimore could be his next destination.

It makes sense for several reasons. The Ravens really need a wide receiver, especially if Torrey Smith leaves in free agency, which now seems likely unless he's willing to accept a hometown discount. Tough, sure-handed, hungry and clutch, Johnson is exactly the type of player that the Ravens love. And the Texans pipeline has worked well in the past with Vonta Leach, Bernard Pollard, Jacoby Jones and Owen Daniels all coming from Houston and playing key roles for the Ravens.

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Despite the Texans' shaky quarterback play last season, Johnson still caught 85 balls for 936 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games. But this is hardly a slam dunk for the Ravens.

Johnson will turn 34 in July. If the Ravens signed him and paired him with Steve Smith (while letting Torrey Smith depart), their top two receivers would be 36 and 34 by the time the 2015 season begins. With Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones gone, the Ravens would also lack a speedy deep threat on the outside.

General manager Ozzie Newsome's mantra is "right player, right price." Perhaps, the Ravens could get Johnson for relatively cheap if he isn't traded and he's available as a free agent. The guy is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and is widely recognized as a great teammate and a leader on and off the field. He'd make any team better.

But at some point, the Ravens also are going to have to commit to getting younger and faster on the outside. It would be hard to endorse acquiring Johnson and letting Torrey Smith get out of town without the Ravens also drafting a wide receiver in the early rounds.

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Johnson, by the way, certainly won't be the only accomplished wide receiver made available over the next couple weeks.

There is talk that Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Percy Harvin and perhaps even Boldin could be either traded or released as teams look to create some cap room and get younger.

Throw in a pretty solid free agent wide receiver class and you can see why some expect it to be a buyer's market at that position when free agency opens next Tuesday.

As always with the Ravens, they'll probably look at the guys who have been released first, so it doesn't cost them with draft pick compensation.

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Let me preface this item by saying it almost certainly won't happen. The Ravens clearly don't have the salary cap space while plenty of other teams do. However, if you asked me to identify the one pending free agent that would best fit the Ravens, I'd say it's New England Patriots' safety Devin McCourty, with no hesitation.

The Patriots opted to put the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski and not McCourty, who will hit the open market next week without a long-term deal in place with New England.

The interest in McCourty, 27, is expected to be extremely high if he leaves. A smart, rangy and play-making safety who always seems to be in the right place at the right time, McCourty is exactly the type of player that the Ravens need to shore up their secondary. But the money is just not there to get in what is sure to be a bidding war for his services if he becomes available.

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The deadline to apply the franchise tag came and went yesterday, and for the third straight year the Ravens didn't use it. The last time they used it was on former running back Ray Rice in 2012.

That trend, however, could change next year, when the Ravens' class of unrestricted free agents may include starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, cornerback Jimmy Smith, punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker.

It will probably be much too costly to franchise a guard – the tag for offensive linemen this year cost nearly $13 million – but it might be a good way to keep Tucker for at least one more year. Both sides would like to work out a contract extension. However, if that doesn't happen, the Ravens could become the latest team in the league to franchise a kicker.

Thirteen kickers have been franchised over the past nine years. The tag for kickers this season, which the Patriots are prepared to pay on Gostkowski, costs just over $4 million. That's significant, but Tucker has established himself as one of the best in the NFL at his position.

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