What a bizarre weekend of reports regarding contract negations with wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
For those of you who didn't follow the play-by-play, I'll give the recap, and then we'll get into whether outsiders think the Ravens are making the right move.
FOX Sports reported early Saturday morning that, in order to create salary-cap space, Baltimore offered Boldin an ultimatum: take a pay cut or be released.
Per USA Today, Boldin rejected the reduced offer (later revealed to be a $2 million cut), which did not include an extension. Boldin was so close to being released that he prepared a statement thanking fans for their support during his time in Baltimore, according to The Baltimore Sun. And despite saying last month he would retire if released, a source told Jarrett Bell that Boldin was preparing to hit the open market and wouldn't budge on taking a pay cut.
Suddenly, a peculiar twist …
While in Arizona for the Kurt Warner Ultimate Football Experience charity event, Boldin told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the Ravens didn’t ask him to restructure his deal and he expected to play in Baltimore in 2013, contradicting previous reports.
Boldin declined to confirm or deny the restructuring reports to Robert Klemko at the same charity event, but did tell the USA Today reporter that contract negotiations are “all about principles.”)
"When I signed with the Ravens, I signed for four years," Boldin said. "With me, it's all about principles. At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, 'I need more money.'
"I love the Ravens; I love the organization. But at the same time, I think everybody understands it's a business, and that's something that I definitely understand. I love everything about the Ravens. But if things don't work out there, I'll sit with my family, we'll talk it over, pray about it and see what God is asking me to do. I know how the Ravens feel about me, from a coaching standpoint, from an organizational standpoint, from guys in the locker room. But sometimes the business side doesn't express that."
FOX Sports, USA Today and The Baltimore Sun are all still reporting the Ravens did indeed ask for a pay cut. ProFootballTalk also came into the picture with a source confirming to the website that discussions did occur, but indicated Boldin may not have known about them. Meanwhile, the Ravens haven't commented on the topic, as it has been the organization's long-standing policy not to comment on contract negotiations.
So where do we stand Monday morning?
The situation is still fluid.
Per ProFootballTalk, a source said Boldin's chances of staying with the Ravens are 50-50.
The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson said that while Boldin rejected the $2 million pay cut, the Ravens “haven’t given up on working something out.”
Right Move To Ask Boldin To Restructure?
Assuming the reports are accurate, many are asking whether it was the right move for the Ravens to give Boldin an ultimatum.
With only about $12 million in projected cap space, the Ravens are in a tough spot on the eve of free agency.
They still need to assign tenders to their restricted free agents, try to re-sign some of their own unrestricted free agents such as linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (more on him below), among others, and prepare to compete on the open market.
Despite all that, ESPN blogger Jamison Hensley doesn't like the move.
"Assuming the report is accurate, the Ravens are wrong to ask Boldin to reduce his $6 million salary this year after a remarkable playoff run by him just two months ago," wrote Hensley. "And Baltimore would make a big mistake to cut Boldin because there is no one on the team who can replace him in the starting lineup or make the same tough, clutch catches."
But Boldin is reportedly scheduled to make the second-highest salary on the team in 2013 ($6 million base salary, $7.531 million salary-cap figure), and Hensley acknowledged the Ravens have few options. The blogger pointed out that restructuring any contracts would just hurt future salary caps – just ask the Steelers.
"I understand the Ravens' need to create more salary-cap room. … Still, how can you ask someone who averaged 95 yards receiving per game in the playoffs to give back money? I believe everyone would agree that Boldin has earned that money."
King: $2 Million Not Worth Risk
Hensley isn't the only one that thinks tinkering with Boldin's contract could prove to be the wrong move.
"I say the Ravens will regret letting Boldin walk," tweeted Sports Illustrated's Peter King. "What a postseason he had."
King followed that opinion up in his Monday Morning Quarterback column this morning, detailing Boldin's importance in the Ravens' Super Bowl run and wondered how Baltimore could replace him.
"If the Ravens hold the line, they have to have immense confidence in tight end Dennis Pitta to become almost a Dallas Clark-type presence in their offense," wrote King. "Peyton Manning came to rely on Clark as his slot receiver and go-to guy on third-down conversions, and Pitta may have to morph into that reliable guy if Boldin is gone.
"And, to my surprise, the Ravens, who could lose two valuable front-seven players (Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe) in free agency, may have to look at a receiver or tight end in the first round of the draft. I just don't think it's worth saving $2 million to try to win without a supremely valuable weapon."
A savvy follower (@Biranfrankfurt) had a classic reply to King's tweet: "@SI_PeterKing: The same way they regretted the loss of [Todd] Heap and [Derrick] Mason ... #flawedmemoryoftheweek"
King certainly knows what he's talking about, but Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome knows what he is doing too. He has a history of replacing high-profile veterans with new developing talent in unexpected places.
Just ask Ellerbe and Cary Williams. Speaking of …
Latest On Ravens' Free Agents
Here's the latest on the Ravens' unrestricted free agents from over the weekend:
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe
The Ravens are expected to make a “significant offer” to Ellerbe prior to the start of free agency that could be in the $25 to $30 million range, Wilson reported Friday. But that offer hasn't come yet. Agent Hadley Englehard told USA Today Saturday evening that he has received "several" inquiries from other teams and the Ravens have yet to make an offer. Englehard said he planned on talking with all 32 teams.
Ellerbe seemed bewildered by some Twitter followers' comments on his situation, asking them Saturday night: "Free agency start Tuesday!!!! Y would I leave my team for a LITTLE MORE? Smh!!! And for everybody tweeting that, what do u consider a LITTLE MORE?”
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger
As expected, the market seems to be heating up for the Ravens' top sack artist last year. When the doors of free agency burst open tomorrow, a bidding war for Kruger is expected to ensue between the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, according to Wilson. The bidding could go as high as $10 to $12 million per year, well above what the Ravens are expected to shovel out.
"E]ach team has plenty of cap space, and it makes sense for a tug-o-war to emerge,” wrote PFT.com’s Mike Florio. “Our guess for now (and it’s only a guess) is that [the Colts will win — but only after the Browns force them to a pay a lot more than they want to pay. Either way, it's safe to say Kruger won't be back in Baltimore in 2013."
Cornerback Cary Williams
Williams has gotten “solid interest” from NFL teams this weekend and isn't expected to return to the Ravens, says Wilson. "Teams are calling, which is good news," said agent Harold Lewis. "When those teams get really hungry by Tuesday when things start happening, that's when you'll get the real number. Teams don't want to throw out numbers right now and get used by agents who would shop it around to other teams."
Harrison 'A Great Fit' In Baltimore – Really?
Former Steelers linebacker James Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, told Wilson: "Baltimore would be a great fit, a contender and a class organization and they have a need."
Really? Is that genuine? Cause it seems like Parise is giving that same line to several other cities, as ProFootballTalk discovered:
"The Saints would be a great fit," Parise also told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"The Browns would be a "'great fit,'" Parise told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- After getting his six-year, $120.6 million contract Monday, quarterback Joe Flacco said he hoped Boldin would return to Baltimore because the receiver was a big part of Flacco's success last season. That said, Flacco doesn't think Boldin should take a pay cut to remain a Raven. "Obviously, when you're a player of his caliber, you believe you're worth a number and that's what you should get," Flacco told Klemko. "He's going to stick to his guns, and that's the way it should be." [USA Today]
- Is safety Ed Reed hurting himself by not hiring an agent? Hensley thinks so because of the new rule that allows all 32 teams to talk to unrestricted free agents three days prior to free agency, but only through their agents. The rule prohibits players like Reed from talking to interested clubs (other than the Ravens) prior to free agency. "The rest of the unrestricted free agents will get a head start on him," Hensley wrote.
- After playing in only seven games in the past three years, former Ravens wide receiver Mark Clayton is back from injury and feels faster than ever. [Carroll County Times]
- Dennis Pitta Joan Rivers = Awkward. The two joined each other on “Fashion Police” on E! Friday night. Pitta, a faithful Mormon, handled all of Rivers' risqué jokes with a smile, but just didn't seem quite at home. Check it out.