Now that the Ravens know this will be Steve Smith's final season, is it too early to start thinking about next year?
The Ravens hope they have found a No. 1 receiver for the long haul in rookie first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but the performance of he and the Ravens other young receivers this year will dictate how critical replacing Smith from the outside will be.
And if the Ravens do choose to add from outside the organization, who will be out there? As always, there will be some marquee names available in free agency. Pending free agent receivers include the Falcons' Julio Jones and the Bengals' A.J. Green. Alshon Jeffery, who had back-to-back 1,100-yard seasons under Marc Trestman with the Bears, is also due to hit free agency. As is the Colts' T.Y. Hilton, who is coming off a 1,300-yard season.
Of course, their current teams will have the first shot at retaining those players via the franchise tag, which could then lead to a long-term deal, as was the case this summer with Dez Bryant in Dallas and Demaryius Thomas in Denver.
But if you think the Ravens are going to make the splashy free-agent signing of a wide receiver next spring, you haven't been following how the Ravens do business. The Ravens rarely jump into the free-agency frenzy in its opening hours, almost always preferring to wait on the sideline until the madness dies down and the prices drop.
Ozzie Newsome's mantra has always been right player, right price.
Remember how they ended up with Steve Smith? They signed him after he was released by the Panthers. They picked up T.J. Houshmandzadeh after he had been released by the Seahawks. The Ravens traded for Anquan Boldin, and they traded for Lee Evans during training camp in 2011. Those signings didn't all work out as the Ravens had hoped, but none of those receivers was signed as an unrestricted free agent.
True, the Ravens will probably need to look outside the organization next year to help compensate for the major loss of Smith. But they will cast the net wide, and not just at available free agents.
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