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For the past couple of years, some Ravens fans – hard to say how many – suffered from a disease. Let's call it Marshallia.
They were easy to spot. They only had one symptom, but it was glaring. No matter what people around them were talking about, they hijacked the conversation to the subject of Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Even if they were discussing something way off subject -- health care, the price of coffee, the fastest mountain-climbing yaks in South America -- they would find a segue to Marshall and tell you why the Ravens needed to trade for him, how they could do it, what sense it made, etc.
It was an obsession – and an understandable one, to some degree. The Ravens have struggled in recent years to get more and varied play-making out of their wide receivers, and Marshall, one of the NFL's finest young pass-catchers, obviously would help. He put up his third straight season of 100 or more catches in 2009.
Marshallia peaked in the weeks after the 2009 season, when the Ravens admitted they were shopping for a receiver, but it ebbed in March when the team acquired Anquan Boldin, another top receiver. That deal was tantamount to a vaccine for Marshallia. The disease went away. Boldin, 29, isn't quite as young and fast as Marshall, but he has made three Pro Bowls, averaged 84 receptions for the Cardinals over seven seasons, and been vastly more responsible off the field than Marshall, who has encountered numerous problems. He represented the huge upgrade the Ravens were seeking.
Marshallia will never rage through the populace as it did before, but when the Dolphins acquired Marshall from the Broncos earlier this week, the possibility of a subtle recurrence was raised. While it is no longer possible to urge the Ravens to trade for Marshall (if you hear someone doing that, ask them to seek medical attention), it is going to be interesting to see whether it turns out the Ravens or Dolphins made the better move.
Since the people who had Marshallia surely will be keeping score, let's do what math we can.
The Ravens gave up less than the Dolphins, which is critical. The Ravens sent their third- and fourth-round picks in next week's draft to the Cardinals for Boldin, while the Dolphins gave up a pair of second-rounders for Marshall. Don't underestimate the considerable difference in those prices. Ray Rice was a second-round pick. You can hit a home run in that round. The Dolphins don't get to take that swing for two years. The Ravens do, even after adding their big receiver.
The Ravens also aren't on the hook for as much money. Marshall and Boldin both signed four-year contract extensions, but again, there is a considerable difference: Marshall reportedly got $24 million in guaranteed money, while Boldin reportedly got $10 million. I give the Ravens the better grade there. The difference in the players' talents isn't as broad as the difference in those guaranteed paychecks.
But the most important yardstick for measuring these deals is how the players produce on the field. Both are superb receivers with impressive track records. Marshall, as stated, is three years younger, a bit faster, and somewhat more explosive. But both make big plays – lots of them. How they fare in the coming years will be determined not just by their own abilities but by who is throwing to them, how their teams fare, how their coaches use them – their circumstances.
Then there is the X factor – their attitudes. In dealing for Boldin instead of Marshall, the Ravens basically took the safe route, obtaining the more stable, professional guy. Marshall was a major headache in Denver, clashing with coaches as well as making the kind of off-field news teams never want. Is he going to have the same issues in Miami? That could be the key question in determining whether the Ravens or Broncos made the better deal.
At this point, the Ravens have no reason to regret the course they took. They added an excellent receiver, and they did it on their terms. They know their guy is going to be ready on Sundays, seldom if ever a distraction.
They pretty much killed off Marshallia when they acquired Boldin. But it will never die out entirely.
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.