Ozzie Newsome and his staff have been incredibly active on the free agent market thus far, landing Tony Jefferson, Danny Woodhead, Brandon Williams and Brandon Carr. Of the biggest three needs for the team, wide receiver, cornerback and pass rusher, only one was address (cornerback with Carr). With the loss of Steve Smith Sr., and possibly Kamar Aiken, the Ravens lack a true number one playmaking receiver. The Ravens have publicly stated that they are looking for a veteran possession receiver, which they still can find on the free agent market, but the Ravens should avoid signing a free agent wide receiver all together.
The Ravens had opportunities to bring in a wide receiver that would have a measurable boost on the offense, but struck out. Brandon Marshall would have been a perfect fit for what the Ravens were looking for, as he still can be a number one receiver. The Ravens also missed on Torrey Smith, who, while not a possession receiver, could have given a lift to the Ravens offense.
Yes, it would be fun to have Anquan Boldin come back, but he won’t be the same player he once was, and he won’t give the type of production that Marshall likely will. The Ravens could bring back Aiken, but the offense would still lack a number one receiver. Signing any of the remaining receivers would be on a small one to two year contract, but there just isn’t much sense in handing one of those out.
Why should the team avoid wide receivers in free agency all together? Because of the strength of the receiver class in the 2017 NFL Draft, as well as other needs that must be dealt with in free agency instead of the Draft.
As previously stated, the Ravens need a number one wide receiver, and they will be able to find that in the first round should Corey Davis or Mike Williams be on the board when the Ravens come on the clock. If the Ravens don’t take a wide receiver in the first round, they could take JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round, who is a near clone of Boldin with more size. Even later in the Draft, the Ravens could target receivers like Zay Jones, Cooper Kupp, Carlos Henderson, Chris Godwin and Amara Darboh, all of whom could have just as much impact, if not more, than one of the veteran free agents.
In addition, the Ravens have other needs besides wide receiver that must be attended to in free agency and not the Draft. The Ravens need a center, a right tackle and an inside linebacker in addition to pass rushers and receivers. The Ravens could draft Ethan Pocic to play center, but he may need a little bit of time to develop. Thus, signing Nick Mangold and allowing Pocic to develop under a player who was once the best center in the league could prove a net positive.
The Ravens also need an inside linebacker following the retirement of Zach Orr. As I detailed when ranking the top remaining free agents for the Ravens, there are many options in free agency at the position that will be better than the draft. For example, the Ravens could target Zach Brown, Gerald Hodges, or even DeAndre Levy to play inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley (Kevin Minter was on my list too, but he was signed by the Bengals only hours after I wrote that story).
Sebastian Vollmer sits on the market as a very possible replacement at right tackle. The Ravens are more likely to address that need in the draft, but Vollmer could come cheap due to his injury history.
The Ravens need to address either the need at center, inside linebacker or right tackle in free agency and not the draft. If the Ravens sign a wide receiver, they may not have the money to target one of the three above positions. Being that the options at center and inside linebacker in free agency are stronger than those of the draft, Newsome should focus his remaining money on those players instead of an Anquan Boldin. Plus, it doesn’t really make sense to sign a veteran stopgap when you can solve the problem for the long term in the draft. The wide receiver need is arguably the largest one that the Ravens will need to address, but they shouldn’t do it through free agency.