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Ravens trade for Anquan Boldin by Lloyd Vance

The Baltimore Ravens may have finally solved their pass catching woes by trading for former Cardinals  receiver Anquan Boldin

Everyone thought some of the teams “supposedly” trapped in the NFL‘s Final 8 Plan during the league’s first foray into uncapped waters would have some difficulty acquiring help with the free agency restrictions imposed on this group.  As the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement wanted to make sure that the rich didn’t get richer, i.e. no George Steinbrenner type owner was going to “buy” all of the available talent on the market – a restriction example is that Final 8 teams can only sign one high-priced unrestricted free agent. 

So going into Friday’s anticipated free agent spending frenzy, everyone figured that the Dallas C owboys, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints, Indianapolis Colts, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, and Baltimore Ravens would have to wait until the NFL Draft in April to fix glaring holes on their team. 

The Final Eight Plan restrictions definitely did have an effect on some of the Final 8 teams such as the Cowboys and their deep-pocketed Jerry Jones, who has been surprising quiet so far this off-season.  However even in an uncapped year, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff were determined to improve upon an offense that contributed only 21 receiving touchdowns.  After a season where quarterback Joe Flacco had difficulty finding receivers that could consistently get open and catch the ball, more playmakers were needed at the receiver position. 

To further explain the Ravens lack of production from their receiving corps, other than veteran Derrick Mason’s 73 catches for 1073 yards and 7 TDs, no Baltimore receiver had over 40 catches.  Often Flacco had to check-down to the teams leading pass catcher running back Ray Rice (78 receptions for 702 yards, and 1 TD), because other route runners had difficulty getting off the line of scrimmage and securing catches in traffic.  The deep ball, once a staple with speedy receiver Qadry Ismail when the Ravens won the Super Bowl, also fell by the wayside with Mason and Rice having the only catches over 60 yards in 2009.

Knowing that another year where teams could pin their ears back and attack Flacco due to a lack of respect for the Ravens’ receivers, Newsome creatively went to work.  First the Ravens decided that speedy receiver Donte’ Stallworth’s second chance in the NFL should come in purple.  Then Baltimore probably made one of the most important deals in free agency’s first weekend.  With everyone talking about the Chicago Bears big splash of signing DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor, some forgot to check out what was happening in the Charm City.

The Ravens instantly put themselves back in the mix at the top of the AFC North division by trading for disgruntled former Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin (6’1, 217).  The Ravens shipped Arizona 3rd- and 4th-round picks in this year’s draft for the former Pro Bowl receiver and a 5th-round selection.  When I first looked at this deal, I immediately thought the Ravens pulled a fast one on the Cardinals, but Arizona wanted more time for younger receivers Early Doucet and Steve Breaston.  Even with the emergence of those two aforementioned receivers, the Cardinals still are going to miss the former 2003 offensive rookie of the year.  

Boldin — averaged 83 catches and six touchdowns in a career — brings a tough physical veteran receiver to the Ravens that has game-breaking run after the catch ability.  And by all indications, he could be the missing piece for a Ravens team that hung around for a while with the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts.

The Ravens’ new No. 1 target is a three-time Pro Bowl player, who dearly wanted out of a bad contract situation with the Cardinals and now, by all indications, has a new lease on life.  And did I also mention that the Ravens only minutes after completing the trade, gave the former Florida State star a new four-year, $28 million contract, which includes $25 million dollars in “new money”, and $10 million in guarantees.

After the trade an enthusiastic Boldin (career numbers: 586 catches for 7520 yards, 12.8 ypc, and 44 TDs) said via the Ravens’ website, “I’m a piece of the puzzle for [the Ravens, I believe I can help them, maybe get them to another level. I think I’ll fit in with them. It’s going to be a lot of fun being a Raven.”   Boldin added, “I’m definitely excited. For me, I’ve been hoping for this for a year since I first heard that the Ravens might be interested in me. I even talked with Ray [Lewis] about it a year ago.”

Look for the former second-round pick in 2003 to immediately be moved all around head coach John Harbaugh’s offense and to be a difference maker in extending the career of tight end Todd Heap and helping out in the redzone.  “The Ravens just got better,” Harbaugh said. “Anquan is a significant addition for us. He fits the personality of our team with the hard-nosed, physical way he plays. We love the way he competes. Our fans will enjoy watching him compete, and his teammates will be excited to have him with us.”

So now Boldin (29) gets out of the lengthy shadow of former Cardinals teammate Larry Fitzgerald and expectations for the Ravens offense have been heightened.  But now you have to wonder if stout veteran Derrick Mason – an unrestricted free agent – has played his last game in Baltimore.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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