Regular readers of this column know how I feel about the Ravens trading away draft picks. I hate it. The Ravens' record of finding useful players in the draft is so superb that trading away picks is essentially trading away players.
The caveat, always, is they should do it only when the situation is just right, when the trade fills a key need with relatively minimal risk – a perfect description of the deal to obtain wide receiver Anquan Boldin from the Cardinals.
In an offseason when upgrading their pass-catching corps is their top priority, the chance to obtain a 29-year-old three-time Pro Bowl receiver for just third-round and fourth-round picks is an opportunity they can't afford to pass up. No matter whom they might have drafted with those picks – think of Lardarius Webb, a 2009 third-rounder -- Boldin will have a bigger impact in both the immediate future and probably long-term as well thanks to his age and the fact that he signed a contract extension.
A lot of fans wanted the team to pursue Brandon Marshall, who is younger and faster, but it would take a first-round pick to pry him away from Denver, and sorry, that's too much for a guy who has off-field issues, can be a pain in the locker room and wants to sign a mega-deal. (Yes, I did mention Boldin in my column about diva wide receivers last week, but his only gripes in Arizona were about his contract. He won't be any trouble now.)
Weighing the skills of the various available receivers and what it was going to take to obtain them and make them happy, going with Boldin was, frankly, a no-brainer. The Ravens made a significant addition without violating their core philosophy and gutting their draft. Kudos to Ozzie Newsome for finding that sweet spot. And by the way, look for him to get back at least one of those lost picks in the coming weeks. I like picks, but no one loves them more than Ozzie.
The fact that the Ravens went with Boldin has far-reaching implications, of course. Most immediately, Derrick Mason's future with the club suddenly is far less certain. It might be over.
Mason has been a tough, productive and dependable receiver, incredibly valuable, but he's 36 and the same kind of receiver as Boldin, a pattern guy more than a downfield burner. It's heartbreaking in a way, but the harsh reality is the Ravens need another kind of receiver (i.e., a faster one) lining up on the other side. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron surely could construct a role for him, but the enormously prideful Mason might not like that scenario.
The bigger question, suddenly, is how to get that speed lined up opposite Boldin. Any reconstruction of the passing game would be insufficient unless it adds the game-changing, field-stretching quality the Ravens have lacked in their receiving corps – speed, speed, speed.
Donte' Stallworth, signed last month, gives them one candidate. He's got the burn in his legs that the Ravens have missed. But he hasn't caught more than 46 passes in a season since 2005, and he was suspended for all of 2009. The Ravens hope he comes in hungry and performs at a starter's level, but let's face it, he can't be counted on.
That means the Ravens still need to draft a receiver. While they do have other shortcomings to address – upgrading their pass rush, for instance – injecting caffeine into their passing game dwarfs all other concerns. They need an array of weapons to catch up with other top teams in an increasingly pass-happy league.
They don't necessarily have to pick a wide receiver in the first round now that they have Boldin. They could take a tight end, another need, and boost their passing game that way. But one way or another, they're going to need to take that wideout relatively early, with one of their first two picks.
Bringing in a fast rookie now, with Stallworth around, would give the young receiver a chance to learn the ropes and mature a bit if needed. He wouldn't immediately have to produce in a big way. But maybe he would. And if he did, boy, the upgrading of the Ravens' receiving corps would be complete.
John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.