Dez? Jordy? Ravens' 15-year history suggests targeted receiver is cap cut

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There was a collective groan from the Baltimore Ravens' fan base, and even some players themselves, on Tuesday night when the Miami Dolphins put the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry.

But the Ravens' 15-year history says the team wouldn't have pursued Landry or any of the wide receivers whose contracts are expiring. The last unrestricted free-agent wide receiver whom Baltimore signed to a multiyear deal was Frank Sanders in 2003.

When the Ravens have needed an experienced wide receiver, their preferred routes are to either sign one who has been cut by another team or acquire one through a trade. Among the franchise's most productive receivers over the past decade have been Derrick Mason (cut by the Titans), Anquan Boldin (traded by the Cardinals), Steve Smith Sr. (cut by the Panthers) and Mike Wallace (cut by the Vikings).

Based on this trend, Baltimore's targeted receiver is still under contract with another team. Could it be Jordy Nelson? Dez Bryant?

Nelson fits the Ravens' profile more than any other potential cut. He's a 30-something receiver who has become too expensive for the only team he has ever played for.

It's not a certainty that the Green Bay Packers will part ways with Nelson. It's believed the Packers have to release either Nelson or Randall Cobb after giving Davante Adams a four-year, $58 million extension.

Nelson could take a pay cut to remain in Green Bay, but the Packers might decide to go with Cobb, who is five years younger. Nelson's $9.25 million salary ranks third on the Packers, behind Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews.

Since 2011, Nelson has produced the 10th-most receiving yards in the NFL with 6,580. He is two years removed from a season in which he totaled 1,200 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.

Some suggest Nelson has slowed in terms of his deep speed and ability to accelerate after the catch. His 9.1-yard-per-catch average is a career worst.

But Nelson's decline last year was also impacted by the fact it was Brett Hundley throwing him passes and not the injured Rodgers. Green Bay would save $10.2 million by cutting Nelson.

Like Nelson, Bryant's fate could be determined by whether he takes a pay cut, which he has been strongly against. Bryant's $12.5 million salary is the highest on the Dallas Cowboys.

While owner Jerry Jones has expressed confidence that Bryant will be back, executive vice president Stephen Jones hasn't been as definitive. The Cowboys can create $8.5 million in cap space by cutting him, or they could save $12.5 million by designating him as a post-June 1 release.

It wasn't long ago when Bryant was considered one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL. He averaged 1,311 yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns from 2012 to 2014.

His more recent production hasn't matched his contract, which has presented what Stephen Jones called "a business decision." After signing a five-year, $70 million deal ($45 million guaranteed) in 2015, Bryant hasn't eclipsed 850 yards receiving in any season.

The biggest knocks on Bryant is he doesn't get separation anymore and he doesn't catch the ball consistently. His 12.1 yards per catch ranks as the worst of his career.

Outside of Nelson and Bryant, other wide receivers who could get released include Oakland's Michael Crabtree, Denver's Emmanuel Sanders, Buffalo's Kelvin Benjamin, Philadelphia's Torrey Smith and the New York Giants' Brandon Marshall. Baltimore had interest in Marshall last offseason, but he preferred to stay in New York.

Why do the Ravens favor cap cuts? A big reason is compensatory picks. Signing players who have been released doesn't negate an extra pick that comes from losing a free agent the previous year. Baltimore could potentially get a fourth-round comp pick if center Ryan Jensen signs elsewhere in free agency.

Plus, those players who get released are older and come at a more manageable price, which is huge for a team that doesn't have much cap room. The Ravens also like the fact these players are motivated to prove their former teams wrong. Boldin and Steve Smith Sr., in particular, had a major chips on their shoulder coming to Baltimore.

This is why the Ravens probably weren't upset by Landry getting the tag (even though safety Eric Weddle expressed his frustration on Twitter). Baltimore probably won't be deflated if Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins get tagged as well.

The Ravens' track record is to sign experienced wide receivers who are let go by other teams or trade for them. Basically, Baltimore probably will make its move when other teams are ready to make theirs.