The need for a play making receiver
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith signed a three-year, $10.5M contract this past offseason to become the Ravens #1 atop the depth chart. It was a skeptical move based on his age (35) and coming off of one of the statistically lowest seasons of his great career (64 rec, 745 yds, 4 TDs). Smith emerged in his debut in a big way with seven catches for 118 yards and a TD. In fact, he eclipsed 100 yards in four of the first six games of the year. It’s been nine games since Smith has gone over 100 yards receiving, and has scored just two TDs in those last nine games. His best game since his hot start was a four catch, 89 yard effort with a score in the win over New Orleans. A familiar foe of his for years down in Carolina.
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Coming into Sunday’s season finale, Smith has 71 receptions, 975 yards, and six TDs on the year. Exceeding expectations on the whole, but the Ravens will like to see him step up big in a must win affair. He averages 13.7 Y/R, and aside from the afore mentioned Week 1 loss, when the Ravens lose, Smith ultimately under achieves. In the other five losses, Smith posts 6.8, 11.7, 7.2, 2.0, and 9.8 Y/R.
When the Ravens win, Steve Smith averages 5.0 catches for 77.9 yards (15.6 Y/R)
When the Ravens lose, Steve Smith averages 4.3 catches for 45.7 yards (10.6 Y/R)
A whole five yards less per catch when the Ravens lose. It seems like he disappears at times when you need your #1 to step up the most, whether its drops, not eluding defenders after the catch, or simply not getting separation enough to gain extra yards. It’s almost like he turns it up a notch when he has something to prove. For example, his Baltimore debut, the Carolina revenge game (7 rec. 139 yds. 2 TDs), a former rival in the Saints. Why doesn’t he take his game to that level all the time?
His total stats at seasons end are certainly worth the $2.16M cap hit the Ravens faced this year. But next year, Smith will be in line for a $2M raise in base salary. Smith will be another year older. His play has declined since a hot start. He doesn’t take over games like a true play making receiver does.
Is next year’s 36 year old Steve Smith worthy of a $4.16M price tag, or the $2.3M in dead money NOT to have him on the team?
I believe if the Ravens straight up released him, it would come as a shock. Consider that few players are comparable in age and past performance as Steve Smith. The closest match is a guy like Reggie Wayne. 36 years old in 2014, and accounted for $6.16M against the cap. A $4M base salary this past season for the free agent to be.
Roddy White is another guy well into his 30s with more on the books the Ravens will owe Smith. In 2016 and 2017, White’s age 35 and 36 seasons, he will cost $6.14M and $6.39M against the cap respectively, if there is no restructure and he plays it out.
Even with the pay increase, Smith is still worth the hit. But we want to see more out of him from time to time. Or maybe, less is more. Moving forward, is Steve Smith the kind of guy that can take a back seat and be more of a role player on this team? Taking a reduced role is something an outspoken guy like Smith may not be able to handle. But he also is getting to the point in his career where he needs to understand that he needs to accept what is best for the team in order to get that ring that has eluded him his entire career. If what’s best is admitting that he’s lost a step, he’s not as durable over a full season taking all the snaps, so be it.
It’s possible that upcoming free agent Torrey Smith isn’t able to be resigned, leaving the receiving group led by Steve Smith, followed by Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, and Michael Campanaro. Jacoby Jones as well, although he’s hardly looked at as an option. Brown, Aiken and Campanaro are three young receivers that can gain a ton of tutelage from the 13 year veteran. Despite having his playing time cut this year, Marlon Brown has shown no signs of slowing down from an impressive rookie campaign. It’s just a matter of getting him on the field more which has been a problem with the pair of Smith’s garnering most of the snaps. Aiken is a precise route runner without much flash. But precise route running means reliable timing, a Kubiak passing game staple. Then Campanaro who saw very limited time before being sidelined with a hamstring injury, looked good in limited work. Making a few tough catches, it appears the college tape doesn’t lie. Great hands, and not afraid to go over the middle. He could be the slant runner.
Sure there is a lot of promise among the young receivers, but it’s hard to predict if one can emerge as a play maker. A real go to guy when you absolutely need it. There are only three places to find one. Trade, but the Ravens already have a limited number a picks to trade. Draft, which means possibly moving up in the first round if you want the best shot at a sure thing, but again, limited picks. Third, free agency, and three big names are going to hit the market.
Dez Bryant, who the Ravens could have drafted but lost the coin toss to Dallas to break the tie for that draft pick. However, reports are that Jerry Jones will stop at nothing to retain Bryant. Dumb on his part to put that out there because Bryant can ask for that much more and hamstring other needs on that team. But no one ever said Jerry Jones was a good or smart owner (well, at-least a good GM).
Demaryius Thomas who has had the luxury of playing with Peyton Manning. But even with Manning out of the equation, Thomas is a player. Manning has been mediocre at best for the last month, and Thomas still went over 100 yards in each of the last two weeks. He’s had over 10 catches in three game this year, over 100 yards nine times, and even went over 200 yards once in week 5 against a stout Cardinals defense.
Randall Cobb is having his best season as a pro as he’s racked up 87 catches for over 1,200 yards and 10 scores. He also scored a TD in six straight games at one point. The Packers locked up their other star, Jordy Nelson, prior to the season before he hit pending free agency. Cobb on the other hand hasn’t been in any contract talks with the team.
Cobb is less proven then Thomas and Bryant, and for that maybe more likely in the Ravens price range as some players cap numbers continue to climb. Bryant and Thomas will likely get seven year deals in the $65M-$70M range, close to $30M guaranteed. I could see Cobb getting in the five year, $35M-$40M range with $10M or so guaranteed. It could be staggered in a way that costs the Ravens around $4M against the cap in 2015. That would be just a quarter of the cap space taken up by Haloti Ngata next year if he returns to finish his existing contract without restructure.
You also have to figure that the salary cap is predicted to take another nice little jump this year. More room for the Ravens to maybe go for a guy like Thomas. A real #1 receiver is something this team has never had. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith have been good. But not one of the best.
Michael Jackson is still the franchise leader in receiving yards in a season with 1,201 in 1996. Don’t look now. That is about to be 20 seasons ago.
Amari Cooper (Alabama), Kevin White (West Virginia), DeVante Parker (Louisville), Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), and Sammie Coates (Auburn) are slated to be possible first round WR draft targets.
Possible future scenarios:
Resign Torrey Smith, ignore the position all together:
Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro
Resign Torrey Smith, but still recognize the need for an upgrade:
Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, 1st or 2nd Round Draft Pick, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro
Torrey Smith walks, upgrade through the draft:
Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, 1st Round Draft Pick, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro
Torrey Smith walks, cautiously sign free agents:
Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, ONE OF: Hakeem Nicks, Robert Meachem, Michael Crabtree, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro
Torrey Smith walks, understand the need and go after it:
ONE OF: Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro