The Baltimore Ravens made one of the big splashes of the off-season by trading for WR Anquan Boldin, sending a clear sign that they are serious about strengthening a position of weakness. The feeling around the league is that for Joe Flacco to take the next steps in his ascension to an elite NFL QB, he needs to be surrounded by bigger and better weapons on offense. Add Boldin and the previously signed Donte Stallworth and you have steps in the right direction. But are the Ravens done upgrading the receiver corps? What impact does Boldin presence have on the fate of Derrick Mason? And what other moves will the Ravens try to make via free agency or trade to fill holes or acquire depth at certain positions?
As productive as Mason has been during his 5 years in Baltimore, he has been just as emotional and non-committal about his future in purple and black. Mason almost retired prior to last season and he has leaked comments that indicate he could easily see himself playing elsewhere next year. The problem for Mason is that he is a 36 year old possession receiver who does not have a strong market for his services. In fact, the best market for him has soften with the acquisition of Boldin. I think the Ravens want to bring Mason back, but the money they might have been willing to pay him has decreased, and it is rumored that the Ravens and Mason are not real close in terms of contract numbers.
It seems that most Ravens fans would like to see Mason back nest year. The thought being that Boldin/Mason is a better combo than Boldin/Clayton. Plus the Ravens two new receivers have an injury history that suggests the team needs depth at the position. The questions that loom for the Ravens are: Will Mason be happy with less money and with being the complimentary receiver to the Ravens new #1? And would it be better for the development of Flacco to not have the safety net of Mason? Maybe a new set of receivers forces Flacco to not lock in on his favorite target when a big play is needed. I suspect that whether Mason is re-signed or not, the Ravens will be drafting a WR in the upcoming draft.
The Ravens surprised many by only giving Jared Gaither a first round tender, rather than a high tender of 1st and 3rd round compensation. It has led some to speculate that the Ravens are interested in trading Gaither, or at least finding out what league interest is for the oft maligned tackle. Gaither is obviously a specimen, but there are questions about his willingness to work hard to become a pro-bowl level player and his maturity has been an ongoing issue. I do not expect the Ravens to move Gaither, mainly because I don’t see other teams willing to part with a 1st round pick. I also don’t see the Ravens giving him a big contract to keep him from being a free agent. If Gaither has not worked hard when he was not being paidwell, imagine what will happen if he is paid well. Could be the last go ’round for Gaither in Baltimore.
Speaking of injury history, Marlin Jackson has had his last 2 years ended by ACL injuries. The Ravens seem to be interested in this talented and versatile defensive back despite the injury history. Jackson is reportedly visiting the Ravens on Tuesday and if medical records/exams go well he could receive an offer from the club. ACL injuries can be overcome, but 2 in 2 years suggest he needs some bionic implants to keep it from happening again. Plus, if the Ravens sign Jackson they could have 3 corners in camp that are coming off major knee surgery. But, Jackson could come relatively cheaply and could add good depth to a thin position. Plus, he could be an upgrade should he stay healthy all year.
The Ravens have already lost one free agent defensive lineman in Justin Bannan. Dwan Edwards is currently on the open market and drawing interest. I think there is a likely-hood that the Ravens re-sign Edwards, but if they lose him would the club try and sign a lineman to fill at least one of the holes created? The good thing for the Ravens is that guys like Tyler Brayton and Reggie Hayward have been released by their clubs already, so there are some available replacements. Also, the draft is heavy on talented interior lineman. The Raven seem to have options should they find themselves with a thin d0line group.
This is another position where the Ravens are dangerously thin. They were fortunate to have Todd Heap healthy for all of 2009. That is not likely to happen again, and after Heap there is not much talent. Davon Drew could find his way onto the roster if he puts in the work to improve an get in shape. The problem for the Ravens is that unless Drew steps up, they have a need for both Todd Heap’s replacement and for a blocking TE. It was rumored that the club pursued Brandon Manumaleuna but came up empty. I would look for the Ravens to sign a TE in free agency and also draft one as well.
What should/will the Ravens do next?