The Pittsburgh Steelers have Antonio Brown, the first player in NFL history to catch over 100 passes in five consecutive seasons. The Cincinnati Bengals have A.J. Green, the first wide receiver to be named to the Pro Bowl in his first seven seasons in the league.
What do the Baltimore Ravens have? A lot of catching up to do in the AFC North as far as wide receivers.
The Ravens’ five wide receivers under contract are: Jeremy Maclin, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore, DeVier Posey and Tim White. They combined for 765 receiving yards last season, which is less than what Brown, Green and JuJu Smith-Schuster produced individually.
Wide receiver is easily the weakest position for the Ravens. Maclin could get cut after totaling career lows with 40 catches and 440 yards receiving. Perriman was a healthy scratch for three of the final six games because he struggled to make 10 catches for 77 yards. Moore ranked second in drop rate (10.8 percent) with four drops on 22 catchable throws. Posey played in the CFL last season, and White suffered a season-ending thumb injury in the preseason.
The Ravens understand changes need to be made. General manager Ozzie Newsome made the point last month that Baltimore will look to revamp the position. There’s a sense of urgency within the organization even though the team has yet to make a move to address the offense.
Baltimore was among a handful of teams in trade talks with the Dolphins for Landry, according to ESPN. But the Ravens ultimately didn’t acquire him despite the fact that Miami looks to have been seeking reasonable compensation (the Dolphins received a fourth-round pick this year and a seventh-rounder next year from Cleveland). The bigger sticking point might have been Landry’s reported desire to be paid $14 million per season.
If Baltimore wants to make over its receiving corps, it could require signing multiple free-agent wide receivers and selecting a couple more in the draft. The Ravens’ free-agent options range from the top tier in Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins to the lower level in Donte Moncrief and Danny Amendola.
Remember, this is a division that now has last season’s NFL leaders in receiving yards (Brown) and receptions (Landry). The standards at wide receiver are clearly high in the AFC North, where the identity used to be running the ball and playing dominant defense.
Baltimore’s challenge is to upgrade the targets for quarterback Joe Flacco while ranking near the bottom in salary-cap room. The other teams that are desperate at wide receiver — the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers — can offer more because of sizable cap space. The 49ers have the added advantage of being able to lure receivers with Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the rising quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Ravens’ top three receivers could eventually be Robinson, Amendola and Calvin Ridley. Or Moncrief, Paul Richardson and D.J. Moore. Or Jordy Nelson (if he’s cut by the Packers), Marqise Lee and Courtland Sutton. Or maybe it’s a combination no one has even considered yet.
When free agency officially begins Wednesday, Baltimore can still take a lot of different routes to improve at wide receiver. There won’t be as much upheaval for the other AFC North teams. The Steelers bring back Brown, Smith-Schuster, Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers. The Bengals return Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and John Ross. Even the Browns now boast Landry, Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman.
The Ravens have a vision of what they want with their new receivers. Coach John Harbaugh emphasized that it starts with catching the ball. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta pointed out the need for Baltimore’s receivers to break tackles and gain yards after the catch.
There’s no question the Ravens want to change their look at wide receiver. The uncertainty lies in whom Baltimore will bring in to affect the offense.