- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now the question becomes: Who replaces Smith for the Ravens?
It could very well be more than one player. 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.
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.
Kansas City's Bowe and Houston's Johnson are two wide receivers to watch for the Ravens, even though they are not technically free agents right now. Both are expected to be released to free up their double-digit cap figures. Bowe might get cut as early as Monday because Jeremy Maclin is headed to the Chiefs. It makes a lot of sense for the Ravens to sign Bowe or Johnson when they become available.
Both fit a profile for the Ravens. They would be salary-cap casualties who won't count against the team's compensatory picks formula. They are wide receivers in their 30s like previous Ravens' additions Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith. And they are the type of big-bodied receivers the Ravens want in their offense. Bowe is 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, and Johnson is 6-3, 230.
Johnson is going to be the more popular choice. He's a seven-time Pro Bowler with Hall of Fame credentials. Among players with 100 games played, Johnson's average of six catches per game is the highest in NFL history. But Johnson is going to turn 34 in July and his yards per-catch has declined each of the past three seasons. The other factor is Johnson will likely come at a higher price because he should draw more interest from other teams.
Bowe, on the other hand, might fall under general manager Ozzie Newsome's mantra "right player, right price." Bowe's price will be lower than Johnson's because he's considered an underachiever who hasn't caught more than 60 passes over the past three seasons and failed to score a touchdown last season. But has his production been the result of catching passes from Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, and Alex Smith since 2012?
He has the distinction of being the fastest Chiefs player to get 6,000 yards receiving (95 games), and he is three years younger than Johnson. Bowe's strength is running quick slants over the middle and breaking tackles to gain yards after the catch. He has been described as a model teammate, which would likely get relayed to John Harbaugh from Andy Reid.
The other free-agent options don't seem like a match for the Ravens. Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin are likely to be out of the Ravens' price range. Cecil Shorts could turn out to be the best bargain among free-agent wide receivers, but he's going to be a No. 2 receiver at best. Reggie Wayne, who is 36, is too old to pair with Steve Smith. Wes Welker is too banged up at this stage of his career.
Perhaps the best game plan for the Ravens is to find a dependable target in free agency and then bank on a big-play receiver falling to them at the No. 26 overall pick. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong and Ohio State's Devin Smith are forces downfield and can make contested catches. They have the ability to lessen the blow of losing a deep threat like Torrey Smith.
With a limited amount of cap room, the Ravens aren't expected to be very active in free agency. But one of the first moves has to be replacing Torrey Smith.