The general perception of the Baltimore Ravens’ wide receiver corps might not be terribly great at the moment—though I believe the 2016 perception was in part shaped due to the planned retirement of one of their starters—but at least one outlet believes that the team is producing strong value from that group relative to their contracts.
In a recent ranking of the league’s best wide receiver contracts, Pro Football Focus listed Ravens wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Steve Smith as one and two on their list, each providing excellent value for the remainder of their deals—each in the final season of their respective deals, by the way.
Setting aside the long-awaited arrival of 2015 first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman, the Ravens have been for the most part carried offensively in the passing game by Smith and Aiken, while they were both healthy at least, with the former ending up missing much of last season due to injury.
Of Aiken, whose 2016 cap hit is $2.55 and is a pending free agent for the 2017 season, the site writes he earned their 19th-highest overall wide receiver grade after logging 955 of the Ravens’ 1155 offensive snaps last season.
Noting the poor quality of quarterback play through much of the year, author Eric Eager writes that “Aiken was able to haul in 75 of 121 targets for 944 yards, dropping just four passes while forcing eight missed tackles” and that his second half of the season commanded a top-10 grade. His $2.55 is the value of a second-round restricted free agent tender, by the way.
As for the veteran Smith, whose plan it was to retire after the 2015 before he was injured and chose to return in 2016, even choosing to not rule out playing beyond that, he has been critical to the Ravens’ offense since joining the team a couple years ago.
Eager describes Smith as “a marvel of consistency throughout his 15-year NFL career”, and writes that “as he has aged, he has simply become more valuable, maintaining substantial production while commanding marginal salaries relative to his peers”.
Prior to his season-ending mid-season injury, PFF had Smith as their second-highest rated wide receiver, which would be certainly more than worth the $4.17 he is expected to count against the salary cap for the Ravens as he returns for his 16th season and the final year of his deal.
In 2014, Smith caught 79 passes for 1065 yards and six touchdowns. In just seven games last year, he caught 46 passes for 670 yards and three scores, averaging 6.5 receptions, 96 yards, and .43 scores per game for Baltimore last year prior to his injury.
Whatever Perriman will add to the offense remains to be seen, and to be sure, the Ravens brought in other options at the wide receiver position, but Smith is no doubt to be the featured piece until he merits otherwise, and Aiken seems a reliable second option for them, if not a third.