Late For Work 3/9: What's Ozzie Newsome's Plan To Fill Receiver Void?

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What Is Ozzie's Plan To Fill Receiver Void?

This one hurts.

It doesn't help that Torrey Smith had one of the all-time classiest exits from Baltimore.

In a goodbye letter, Smith thanked 48 people in the Ravens organization from Owner Steve Bisciotti to Manny in the cafeteria. In between them all, Smith had an awesome final word for quarterback Joe Flacco: "Joe, keep doing elite ish! They don't have to respect you, but we know what kind of player you are."

But fans are wondering: How can Flacco keep doing "elite ish" with his pool of proven pass catchers diminishing?

There's no Torrey, no Jacoby Jones, and the Ravens hinted at a reduced role for Steve Smith Sr. as he turns 36 before the season. Dennis Pitta can't be relied upon as he recovers from major hip surgery and Owen Daniels is a free agent.

While Smith never earned the reputation of being a No. 1 receiver, he produced the third-most receiving yards in franchise history (behind Derrick Mason and Todd Heap) in just four years. He scored the second-most touchdowns (Heap). He's one of the NFL's best at stretching the field; a deep threat that perfectly complemented Flacco's big arm.

For those biting your fingernails, you can find words of comfort from Smith himself.

Two years ago at this time, there was at least as much panic in Baltimore as there is this Monday morning when the Ravens were cleaning house after their Super Bowl XLVII victory.

"You just have to trust and believe in [Newsome]," Smith said, via The Baltimore Sun in March of 2013. "He can cut me today and I'd still be a firm believer in him. He has a track record and there's nothing you can take from that. He's won two rings, he's the mastermind behind that. When a guy has that type of reputation, you just have to trust it."

Soak that in.

Newsome didn't cut Smith, but he and Ravens brass *knew *that Smith would price himself out of Baltimore. So if you're surprised Smith is gone, you shouldn't be. Bisciotti indicated this could happen several weeks ago.  Ravens brass also likely already knew they would cut Jacoby.

You better believe they have a plan. It always starts by not overpaying players.

Ravens fans always flip out every year around this time when they don't make a splash in free agency. Relax. See us in January — lindsey ok (@lindseyyok) March 8, 2015

The team that will sign Smith on Tuesday isn't official, but all reports indicate he is headed to San Francisco and will reunite with Anquan Boldin (assuming Boldin doesn't get cut).  The terms of the deal also aren't official, but given that Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb set the market at $10 million per year, Smith is expected to get around $9 million annually.

The Ravens wanted Smith back – they've been trying to get an extension done since last offseason – but the reality is he could get more on the open market than he could get with the cap-strapped Ravens.

"The Ravens have been very good about spending a number for players and sticking to it, whether you agree with the decision or not," CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown said. "There are a lot of teams out there that need wide receivers. Torrey Smith at age 26 is in the prime of his career. If it took $8, $9, $10 million per season to re-sign Torrey Smith, the Ravens have been very clear that they weren't going to go there.

"Yes, they did want him back, but only at a certain price and clearly Torrey Smith has priced himself into a place where the Ravens feel they can no longer afford to bring him back."

So, what is the next step in replacing his production?

They'll do the same thing they do every year: draft well and find bargain signings.

(If you're being honest with yourself, you weren't jumping up and down when the Ravens signed Justin Forsett or Owen Daniels last year, but without them, the Ravens don't make it to the divisional round of the playoffs. If you were excited at the time of those signings, you're not panicking right now.)

"The Ravens can address this void at wide receiver by signing a free-agent veteran to replace Smith in the starting lineup and by drafting a deep threat to replace Smith's big plays downfield," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

"The Ravens' top three receivers in 2015 could potentially be Dwayne Bowe, Steve Smith, and rookie Jaelen Strong. Or it might end up being Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, and rookie Devin Smith. You get the picture." 

With Cobb and Smith off the market, and Jeremy Maclin reportedly headed to Kansas City, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec says the top free-agent wide receivers now available are Michael Crabtree, Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington and Eddie Royal.  That doesn't include the list of guys that could be cut (the more likely group that the Ravens pull from) such as Percy Harvin, Johnson and Bowe.

Crabtree and Harvin are expected to be too pricey, so analysts see Johnson and Bowe as two players that could fit Newsome's "right player, right price" mantra.

Pairing one of those two players with a speedy deep-threat from the draft seems like the direction the Ravens are headed.

Weekend Signings Hurt Ngata, Webb Negotiations

The NFL world is constantly changing.

Just on Friday, we were talking about how the Patriots' release of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork would be helpful to the Ravens in setting an affordable price for Haloti Ngata. But then Ndamukong Suh, and his whopping $114 million deal with the Dolphins, may have just made things harder on Baltimore.

That's crazy money.

"The events of the weekend might not bode well at all for the Ravens, who were hoping to keep Haloti Ngata and Lardarius Webb on team-friendly, cap-friendly new deals," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.

"And the Suh deal, and other defensive line deals to come, would only increase Ngata's position on the open market to get paid. I don't see him budging on his evaluation; if he hits the open market, the Colts and Browns would be strong suitors, from what I gather. Could he push $10 million in the first year of a new deal?"

$10 million annually? That's more than the number that's pricing Smith out of Baltimore. More money is good for Ngata, of course. It's just not good news for those who want to see him in purple and black next season.

Meanwhile, the cornerback market has gone "bonkers."

Here's what's happened over the weekend with corners: Byron Maxwell reportedly got $10 million annually in Philly, Brandon Flowers is getting $9 million, and Kareem Jackson got $8.5 million.

To put that in perspective, Webb's base salary is $8 million and his cap hit is $12 million.

If Forsett Leaves, Thomas An 'Intriguing Alternative'

Buzz is slowly building for running back Justin Forsett, and there's no reason to believe he won't price himself out of Baltimore too after finishing as the NFL's No. 5 rusher last season.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported that the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins are "ready to make a play" for Forsett if the Ravens don't re-sign him by Tuesday at 4 p.m. Last month, ESPN reported that the Atlanta Falcons could also be interested.

The Ravens have made it clear they want Forsett back, but fans are already looking for contingency plans.

Hensley says that an "intriguing alternative" would be Pierre Thomas, who was cut by the Saints after missing five games last season with rib and shoulder injuries.

"[L]et me start off by saying I believe the Ravens will try to keep Justin Forsett," Hensley wrote. "If Forsett doesn't re-sign … the best fit is Thomas, because the Saints run zone-stretch plays like the Ravens.

"He's a one-cut runner with good vision and balance. Thomas will get pigeon-holed as a third-down back because of his age (30), but he's an all-around back. He can run, catch and block. And, like Forsett, Thomas would be a good influence on a young running back group. For what the Ravens need, I would say Forsett and Thomas should top the team's list."

Ravens Tenders Should Be Submitted In Next Couple Days

As of Friday, the Ravens were reportedly just $4.6 million under the cap and they still have to assign tenders to restricted and exclusive-rights free agents.

Those will be submitted in the next couple of days, says The Sun's Aaron Wilson. They have to be submitted by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline to keep the restricted and exclusive rights free agents from hitting the market.

For an idea of what that will cost, Hensley makes his tender predictions for the three restricted players:

K Justin Tucker: Second-round tender ($2.356 million)
SS Will Hill: Low tender ($1.542 million)
DB Anthony Levine: No tender

Quick Hits

Appreciate the love y'all...I'm ready to shed a tear over here — Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) March 9, 2015

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