There's no question that the Ravens' priority is to upgrade at wide receiver. How they will accomplish this is a more open-ended matter.
The Ravens can take several different routes to improve the targets for Joe Flacco, from putting an offer sheet on a restricted free agent (perhaps the Denver Broncos' Brandon Marshall), signing an unrestricted free agent (like the Houston Texans' Kevin Walter) or trading for a consistent but unhappy veteran (the Arizona Cardinals' Anquan Boldin).
"I think having a playmaker on the outside will help Joe Flacco become a better quarterback," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month.
There seems to be a push this offseason for the Ravens to shake up this group of wide receivers, which has been a factor in the Ravens' finishing 18th in passing in 2009 and 28th in 2008. With free agency beginning Friday, the Ravens' receivers are Mark Clayton (a restricted free agent), recently signed Donte' Stallworth, Marcus Smith (a fourth-round draft pick in 2008) and Justin Harper (a seventh-round pick in 2008).
But an NFL source said the Ravens aren't willing to give up their first-round pick in this year's draft in a trade or for a restricted free agent at this point. The highest draft pick the Ravens ever considered dealing for a wide receiver was a second-rounder for Terrell Owens in 2004.
Here's a look at the Ravens' options:
Sign a restricted free agentPossibilities:
San Diego Chargers' Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd; Dallas Cowboys' Miles Austin; and Marshall.
Outlook: The Chargers are protecting Jackson and Floyd by putting the highest tenders on them, meaning it would take first- and third-round picks to pry them away. The Cowboys are expected to do the same with Austin, who had a breakout season.
The one wide receiver who might be available for a second-round pick is Marshall, who clashed with first-year head coach Josh McDaniels in 2009. Marshall has caught more than 100 passes in three straight seasons, but his off-the-field problems make him a risk.
"I'm really fond of him - he's a good person," McDaniels said of Marshall at the NFL combine Saturday. "He's a very good football player. [But] anytime you're dealing with players and contracts, you weigh a lot of things."
Sign an unrestricted free agentPossibilities:
Walter; Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Antonio Bryant; Buffalo Bills' Owens; and Carolina Panthers' Muhsin Muhammad.
Outlook: The rumor mill went crazy last weekend when coach John Harbaugh talked about his "interest" in Owens. But his age, decline in production and history with the Ravens (he successfully fought his trade here six years ago) likely make him a fallback option. The Ravens would probably show interest in Owens only if they still had a hole after the draft.
The free agent to keep an eye on is Walter. A league source said the Ravens have been watching a lot of film on Walter, who has caught at least 50 passes the past three seasons for the Texans. He would be a solid fit for the Ravens because he has size (6 feet 3, 218 pounds) and is a good blocker.
The Ravens will have to be selective buyers in free agency. As one of the final eight teams in an uncapped season, the Ravens can sign one unrestricted free agent for $5.8 million in year one of the contract before one of their free agents signs elsewhere.
Trade for a receiverPossibility:
Outlook: The Ravens passed on Boldin last season because the Cardinals wanted first- and third-round picks. But Arizona might be more motivated to deal Boldin now, according to The Arizona Republic.
Boldin likely could be traded for a second-round pick because he turns 30 this fall and enters the final year of his contract. He has averaged 83 catches and six touchdowns in his seven-year career.
"Our approach with Anquan is really the same as it was last year," Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said at the NFL combine. "We will look at all the options and exploring and ultimately doing what is best for the team."
Retain their own receiversPossibilities:
Derrick Mason and Kelley Washington.
Outlook: This appears to be a slam-dunk. Mason wants more than a one-year commitment to return, and the Ravens are willing to give it to him. His receptions are down the past two seasons, but defenses have been focused on shutting him down. The Ravens believe he can still be productive at 36 with better support. The Titans could possibly attract Mason because his children live in Tennessee.
Washington is a secondary option. He said after the season he wanted to test the market, and the signing of Stallworth didn't help his chances of returning.
Rating the available wide receivers Wide receiverTeamStatusAgeHt.Wt.Vincent JacksonSan DiegoRFA*276-5230Miles AustinDallasRFA*256-3214Brandon MarshallDenverRFA*256-4230Anquan BoldinArizonaTrade296-2217Malcom FloydSan DiegoRFA*286-5225Derrick MasonRavensUFA365-10192Kevin WalterHoustonUFA286-3218Braylon EdwardsN.Y. JetsRFA276-3215Steve BreastonArizonaRFA266-0189Antonio BryantTampa BayUFA286-1205
* Expected to receive high tender as restricted free agent, which would require first- and third-round picks as compensation