2010 NFL Question Marks: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed warms-up prior to his game against the Washington Redskins at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on August 13, 2009. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. First up is the Baltimore Ravens and their question marks surrounding their secondary.

After dismantling the Patriots in the postseason last year, Raven fans are more excited about the team’s Super Bowl hopes this season than I am about “Shark Week” every year. (I think it goes without saying that sharks are the greatest fish, human and/or breathing organism on the planet. I mean, they’re sharks.)

And who could blame the Baltimore faithful? Joe Flacco is heading into his third season (which is the year when things are supposed to really “click” for players), Ray Rice is on the verge of superstardom and the passing game added a legitimate No. 1 wideout this offseason thanks to Ozzie Newsome’s trade for Anquan Boldin.

But just like all 32 teams at this time of year, the Ravens have some concerns and most of theirs lie within the secondary.

First and foremost, Ed Reed isn’t healthy and that’s a huge problem. At 31, some note that he isn’t as physical as he was earlier in his career, but the guy can still cover ground with the best of them. His ability to read what formation an offense comes out in, bait the quarterback into making a poor throw and then actually make a play on the ball is unrivaled. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say he was the best coverage safety in the league last year, along with Arizona’s Adrian Wilson.

But again, he’s also hurt. The Ravens recently placed him on the active/Physically Unable to Perform list and he’s a candidate to miss the first six weeks of the season as he continues to battle a hip injury. He missed four games last year and the Ravens still made the playoffs, but playing without him isn’t something the team wants to make a habit of.

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Anquan Boldin, Ravens a perfect match

Anquan Boldin hasn’t caught one pass yet as a Baltimore Raven, but I feel confident enough to say that it’s already a perfect partnership.

The Ravens acquired Boldin and a fifth round pick from the Arizona Cardinals on Friday in exchange for their third and fourth round selections in this year’s draft. Immediately after acquiring the 29-year-old receiver, Baltimore signed him to a four-year, $28 million deal.

The Ravens have been desperately seeking a true No. 1 receiver over the past couple years, while Boldin has wanted to be treated like one. It’s not that he didn’t like playing in Arizona – he just felt as though he should be paid similarly to Larry Fitzgerald, or at least have the opportunity to make No. 1-type money.

Boldin will immediately upgrade Baltimore’s receiving corps and assuming he doesn’t retire, Derrick Mason will make a fine No. 2. Acquiring a legitimate No. 1 receiver was the final piece of the puzzle for GM Ozzie Newsome and while it took a couple years, he finally found one in Boldin. Joe Flacco now has several solid weapons at his disposal in Boldin, Mason and rising star Ray Rice, and will also be protected by an above average offensive line.

While the Cardinals would have loved to keep Boldin paired with Fitzgerald in their dynamic offense, all parties involved in this trade walk away winners. The Ravens got their receiver, Boldin got his money and his No. 1 status, and the Cardinals got fair compensation for a player that didn’t want to be there long-term.

Boldin was a top 10 fantasy receiver in Arizona, and depending on who starts the season as the Ravens’ WR2, he should be a top 10 receiver in Baltimore. If Mason sticks around, it will likely depress the numbers of both players. Also, don’t expect Ray Rice to catch 78 passes again next season. Boldin is going to get a ton of targets and Mason figures to as well.

From Arizona’s point of view, it’s an opportunity for Steve Breaston or Early Doucet to step into the WR2 role and have a big season. Breaston has had the better career, but Doucet played well in the postseason, catching 14 passes for 145 yards and two TD against the Packers and Saints. However, either player’s success will depend directly on how Matt Leinart fares at QB. There’s a good chance that the Cardinals will now focus more on Beanie Wells and the running game. Larry Fitzgerald should continue to be a top 3 fantasy wideout.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Boldin officially on the market – Dolphins not interested?

Two sources told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that the Dolphins probably won’t pursue Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin this offseason.

Two people in contact with the Dolphins said last week they would be very surprised if Miami pursues a trade for Brandon Marshall — Denver says it might keep him, and Marshall wants to stay — but they could envision the Dolphins offering a draft pick (third round or later) for Arizona’s Anquan Boldin.

Cardinals GM Rod Graves confirmed today that he is receptive to trade offers for Boldin, although nothing is in the works as of now.

If Graves hopes to get anything for Boldin before his contract runs out at the end of the season, then he may have to take a third round pick or later. It’s rumored that the Cardinals want at least a second rounder in exchange for Boldin, but that seems high.

My best guess is that Boldin will be traded for a third round pick on one of the 45 draft nights/days that the NFL will hold this year. And I think the team that will offer that third round pick will be the Ravens.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Should the Cardinals trade Anquan Boldin?

If beat writer Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic is right when he says that the Cardinals will try to shop receiver Anquan Boldin this offseason, then the team would be making a wise decision.

Boldin is a quality playmaker with excellent size, good speed and solid hands. But talent isn’t something the Cardinals are desperate for at the wideout position. They have plenty of youth and depth at receiver with Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet, which makes Boldin expendable.

Boldin will be 30 in early October and is set to make $3 million in his final year. Mind you, that’s not a ton of money to pay a receiver of his caliber, but if he reaches free agency after the 2010 season then Arizona will get nothing for him in return. If they trade him now, they might be able to get a third round pick and another player, which was what teams were offering last offseason.

A trade makes even more sense if Kurt Warner retires this offseason. When Matt Leinart takes over under center, the Cardinals will switch from an offense that attacks opponents through the air to one that tries to beat teams on the ground. The focus will come off the quarterback and receivers and onto young running back Beanie Wells.

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Bears, Eagles made trade offers to Cardinals for Boldin on draft day

According to the Arizona Republic, the Eagles offered the Cardinals cornerback Sheldon Brown and a third round pick in exchange for receiver Anquan Boldin on draft day, but Arizona quickly rejected it. Bears’ GM Jerry Angelo also admitted that he offered the 49th overall pick in exchange for Boldin, but obviously was turned down himself.

Earlier this week, Eagles coach Andy Reid told a Philadelphia radio audience that the price for Boldin was too high, both in terms of trade compensation and a new contract. As a baseline, Reid threw out trade terms of first, third and fifth-round picks, in addition to a new contract worth $10 million or so a year.

Maybe Reid was trying to spin the situation to satisfy Eagles fans, some of whom have long clamored to trade for Boldin. In the radio interview, Reid went on to say that he didn’t think the Cardinals ever really wanted to trade Boldin. Of course, it would be hard to determine that when the best offer is Brown and a third rounder.

Maybe the Eagles figured they would take a stab at stealing Boldin for a pittance. No harm in that.
The Eagles never offered more than the third round pick and Brown, a seven-year veteran who is unhappy with his current contract. The Cardinals didn’t have a need for a starting cornerback after signing Bryant McFadden in free agency.

Sheldon and a third round pick for Boldin? I thought I heard laughter off in the distance on draft day – turns out it was Cardinals’ GM Rod Graves after talking with the Eagles.

Hey, it was worth a shot for the Eagles. If nothing came out of it, so be it. But if the Cards were at all desperate to relieve themselves from the Boldin situation, maybe they would have pulled the trigger on Philly’s offer. (And then would have been rightfully lambasted by their fans and media in the process.)

I wonder if Graves would have done a deal with Angelo for a second and a third, although the third would have had to been for 2010 because Chicago had already traded that pick to Denver for Jay Cutler. Still, if Angelo was able to pull a deal off for Boldin, then the Bears would have went from perennial NFC North favorites to legit Super Bowl contenders.

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