Several dominoes must fall for Boldin to fly to Baltimore


In the months leading to the NFL Draft, talk has persisted over the Ravens’ need to select a receiver in the first round.  But now with the draft only a week away, could Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin be heading to Baltimore?
The Arizona Cardinals have officially placed Boldin on the trading block, and the Ravens are interested in the 28-year-old wideout according to numerous media outlets.
Boldin would certainly be the playmaker the Ravens’ offense needs, but there are several barriers to overcome before the three-time Pro Bowl selection can begin reining in passes from quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Cardinals are reportedly seeking a first- and third-round pick, a likely sticking point for the Ravens who have only six picks in the draft.  General manager Ozzie Newsome has not traded out of the first round since 2003 when the Ravens sent their 2004 first-round pick to the New England Patriots in order to select quarterback Kyle Boller.
The fact that the Ravens are even discussing the possibility of trading picks for Boldin suggests a lack of enthusiasm for the group of receivers that could be available with the 26th overall pick.  Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey, Rutgers’ Kenny Britt, and North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks have been mentioned as potential first-round choices, but all have weaknesses and would likely struggle to make an impact in their rookie season.
Director of player personnel Eric DeCosta mentioned earlier in the week that more failed picks have come at the wide receiver position than any other between picks 24 through 32.
And despite Newsome’s immense success on draft day, wide receiver is not a position on which the Ravens typically hit a home run.  Past early-round picks include Patrick Johnson, Travis Taylor, Devard Darling, Mark Clayton, and Yamon Figurs–not exactly a group that strikes fear in a secondary’s heart.
If the Ravens are truly serious about getting better at the wide receiver position immediately, Boldin is a far better option than anyone in the draft, including top-rated receiver Michael Crabtree from Texas Tech.  While a young receiver could become a threat in the future, none would transform the Ravens into a legitimate Super Bowl contender like Boldin.
Even the asking price of a first- and third-round pick is not a steep one when solely considering the value of the picks.  Using the NFL draft-pick value chart, a point system used by general managers to consider potential trades, the Ravens’ first-round pick (26th overall) is worth 700 points and the third-round pick (88th overall) is worth 150 for a total of 850 points.  This is roughly equivalent to the 20th overall pick.
The chart is only used as a tool for evaluating potential trades, but the surrendered picks would be worth no more than the value of a mid-first-round pick.  In return, the Ravens would receive one of the best receivers in the NFL.  Despite the possibility of only having four remaining picks, the decision is a no-brainer from this standpoint.
And remember, the Cardinals are asking for a first- and third-round pick; that doesn’t mean they will get them.
The bigger issue working against a potential deal is obviously the money.  Boldin wants out of Arizona, because he wants a new, lucrative contract to replace the current one with two years remaining.  Any team acquiring the wideout would unquestionably have to sign him to a new deal with a huge signing bonus, a proposition far more costly than signing the draft picks that would be surrendered.
The reality is the Ravens have very little salary-cap room.  Even the possibility of restructuring existing deals and releasing one or two average veterans would not clear enough room to sign Boldin.
The only way the trade happens would be the signing of Terrell Suggs to a long-term deal, something Newsome has been unable to do after designating the linebacker with the franchise tag for the second straight season.  Suggs’ 2009 salary is $10.2 million, eating up a large chunk of cap room.
Signing Suggs to a long-term extension would create several million dollars of cap room, leaving the flexibility to complete a Boldin deal.
Suggs discussed the possibility of providing a hometown discount to re-sign linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott earlier in the offseason.  It would be interesting to see if he would be more flexible in signing a deal if it meant the Ravens could add an elite receiver to the offense.
Even if Suggs agrees to an extension, Newsome will have to assess whether Boldin’s production is worth the much larger financial commitment than the modest investments that would go into the draft selections.
Considering any deal for Boldin would involve an expensive contract, Arizona may not find a team willing to trade the draft picks they desire.  It’s possible the Ravens could offer a first-round pick and a conditional 2010 selection, perhaps a third- or fourth-rounder, to get the deal done.
It’s always a risk trading early draft picks for a veteran player, but Boldin is the receiving threat that could push Flacco to become an elite quarterback in the NFL.  The combination of Boldin and Derrick Mason would become one of the best receiving duos in the league.  It would also allow Mark Clayton or Demetrius Williams to compete against the third or fourth defensive back on the field, creating favorable matchups in Cam Cameron’s offense.
But what about critics suggesting Boldin cannot put up the big numbers without fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the same offense?
Boldin caught 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season in 2003 while Fitzgerald was making acrobatic catches–at the University of Pittsburgh.
I’d say he’s an elite receiver.
The need for an improved offense is more apparent when considering the age of the defense.  Mainstays such as Lewis and Trevor Pryce are in the twilight of their careers (both will be 34 at the start of the season) and cannot be expected to play at the same level that they have over the past few seasons.  Even the dynamic Ed Reed will be 31 in September and has an impingement in his neck and shoulder that could potentially shorten his career.
The defense can still play at a championship level, but for how long?  The window for the veterans on the team is small, so Boldin could be viewed as the missing piece for a trip to the Super Bowl.  Keep in mind, this team was a fourth-quarter touchdown drive away from advancing to the Super Bowl last January.
Boldin could be the difference in simply being a playoff contender in 2009 versus becoming a legitimate Super Bowl contender right there with Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and New England.
They’re close.  Trading for Boldin is certainly a risk, both financially and to future player development by surrendering draft picks, but it just might be enough to get the Ravens to the Super Bowl.
With great risk, comes great reward.
Trading for Boldin is a chance worth taking to seize the Lombardi Trophy next February.