Ravens sift through WR options as free agency looms

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OWINGS MILLS — Former NFL general manager Charley Casserly didn’t hesitate when asked to list the attributes necessary to succeed at wide receiver.

“Speed,” Casserly said during the NFL scouting combine. “I went back and looked through a seven-year period of receivers who didn’t succeed. At the end of the day, they weren’t fast enough, couldn’t separate.

“If you can’t get open, you can’t be successful. That gets into this track speed versus play speed and some teams value these big, physical receivers. Sometimes, you can miss on their separation ability.”

The Baltimore Ravens’ primary offseason goal is to improve at the pivotal wide receiver position to provide a boost to the development and productivity of strong-armed quarterback Joe Flacco.

Obtaining downfield weapons for Flacco to utilize could get complicated as Baltimore tries to upgrade the NFL’s 28th-ranked passing game.

Not to mention costly.

The Ravens could explore restricted free agents like the Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall and the San Diego Chargers’ Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and the Dallas Cowboys’ Miles Austin.

All of those players fit the criteria of being big, fast, talented and productive. Especially Marshall, an enigmatic 6-foot-4, 230-pound Pro Bowl selection who has caught 100 passes each of the past three seasons.

However, each player is expected to receive the high tender of a first-round pick and a third-round pick. If the Ravens signed any of those players to an offer sheet, the players’ current teams would have the right to match the offer. If they opted not to match after seven days, the Ravens would have to give up their first-round pick and third-round pick.

With such a strong draft and the Ravens’ tradition of not being willing to trade their first-round pick, it’s a long shot that any of those players wind up in Baltimore unless the teams were willing to lower their compensation.

The Chargers are determined to hold onto Jackson and Floyd. So are the Cowboys when it comes to Austin.

And Marshall is the most likely to be dealt because of his stormy relationship with coach Josh McDaniels. He carries excess baggage with a history of domestic violence issues, but has stayed out of trouble for a while off the field.

The Ravens are unlikely to give up their first-round pick.

Even as a Final Eight team facing restricted rules governing free agency where they can only sign one player to a first-year salary of $5.80 million, the Ravens could be competitive when it comes to unrestricted free agents like the Houston Texans’ Kevin Walter or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Antonio Bryant.

Both of their respective teams have already signaled that they won’t be retaining them.

Bryant has the speed to get deep with a 15.3 career average per catch and 30 touchdowns, but is coming off a bad season.

Walter has the requisite size at 6-foot-3, 218 pounds with sound hands. As the second receiver behind Pro Bowl selection Andre Johnson, he caught 53 passes for 611 yards.

Walter is known as a high-character individual, and the Ravens have made it a point to watch more film of him as they prepare for free agency.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged having interest in mercurial 36-year-old wide receiver Terrell Owens during the combine.

Contrary to rumors, he’s more of a last resort for the Ravens where they would wait and see if they can get a younger, less diva-prone target.

Another solid unrestricted free agent option is the Seattle Seahawks’ Nate Burleson.

The trade market is interesting when it comes to Arizona Cardinals standout Anquan Boldin.

Last year, the Ravens explored trade scenarios for Boldin and ultimately passed because it would have cost a first-round pick and a third-round pick.

There are indications that the Cardinals may be willing to drop their price. If it ever falls to a second-round pick, the Ravens could be interested.

There are some concerns with Boldin because of a history of injuries and his constant unhappiness about his contract. However, his physical, hard-nosed approach to the game, size and body control are extremely attractive to the Ravens.

He turns 30 during next season.

Playing opposite Larry Fitzgerald, Boldin caught 84 passes for 1,024 yards and four touchdowns last season.

The Cardinals are receptive to trading Boldin, but they won’t give him away.

“Our approach with Anquan is really the same as it was last year,” Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said. “We will look at all the options and exploring and ultimately doing what is best for the team. From our perspective, nothing has changed. We still view Anquan as a valuable member of our football team and we will weigh the options through the offseason and do what is best for our team.

“Anquan Boldin is such a competitor. I’d be remiss if I said you could easily replace a player of his caliber. I think having Anquan in the mix certainly enhances our abilities as a football team. Again, we will see where things take us through the offseason and the decision will be made ultimately in the best interest of our team.”

Meanwhile, the Ravens are working to retain wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Mason, 36, is looking for at least a two-year deal with plenty of upfront money. The Ravens don’t have a problem with making a commitment beyond one season, so a deal could happen.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome recently told 24×7 he has held a discussion with Mason regarding his potential return.

Among the other teams rumored to be interested in Mason: his former employer, the Tennessee Titans, and the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens are expected to retain restricted free agent wide receiver Mark Clayton.

The representative for wide receiver Kelley Washington said that Washington remains open to the idea of returning to Baltimore even after the arrival of Donte’ Stallworth.

Although the team has informed Washington that they’re interested in having him back, no contract talks have been launched at this point.

“Kelley is definitely interested in playing for the Ravens,” said Chad Speck, Washington’s agent. “We’re just waiting to get things started.”

NOTES: Under the new provisions governing the pending uncapped year, the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players Association have officially established how much money Final Eight teams can pay to free agents.

Final Eight teams, which includes the Ravens, Chargers, Cardinals and the Cowboys, can pay one unrestricted free agent a first-year salary of $5.807 million.

And those four teams may sign other unrestricted free agents for less than $3.861 million in the first year of the contract while still following the 30-percent increase rule. Previously, these figures were set at $5.5 million and $3.7 million, respectively.

Former Baltimore director of pro personnel George Kokinis hasn’t rejoined the Ravens, but there appears to be momentum in that direction.

Kokinis, who was fired by Cleveland after a short tenure as general manager and recently reached a settlement in his grievance against the Browns, was hanging out with the Ravens’ delegation at the combine.

When Harbaugh was asked if Kokinis was back with the team, he replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”

There isn’t a current opening for Kokinis to fill, though.

Vince Newsome is the Ravens’ current director of pro personnel, and Eric DeCosta is the Ravens’ director of player personnel.

The Ravens could give Kokinis a different job title. Kokinis, who has been with the Ravens’ organization ever since their Cleveland days, drew a lot of praise from the coaching staff and Newsome over the years for his role in ranking and acquiring new players.

This entry was posted in The Beat with Aaron Wilson by Aaron Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson
Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best...more

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