Ravens wrong to play hardball with Boldin*

Fox Sports is reporting that the Ravens have told wide receiver Anquan Boldin that he has to take a pay cut to remain with the Super Bowl champions.

Assuming the report is accurate -- as an update, Boldin told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the team hasn't asked him to restructure -- the Ravens are wrong to ask Boldin to reduce his $6 million salary this year after a remarkable playoff run by him just two months ago. Baltimore would make a big mistake to cut Boldin, because no one on the team can replace him in the starting lineup or make the same tough, clutch catches.

The deadline for Boldin's decision is Tuesday.

I understand that the Ravens need to create more salary-cap room. Baltimore is a projected $12 million under the cap, but the team may have only half that space after tendering its restricted free agents (tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson and defensive lineman Art Jones). With that limited amount of cap room, it could be difficult for the Ravens to retain linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, their top priority in free agency, and safety Ed Reed.

The Ravens wouldn't ask Boldin to reduce his salary if they didn't have to. Boldin was a monster in the postseason, catching 22 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Still, how can you ask someone who averaged 95 yards receiving per game in the playoffs to give back money? I believe everyone would agree that Boldin has earned that money.

I would acknowledge there aren't many options for the Ravens to create more room. Boldin has the second-highest salary on the team in 2013, behind linebacker Terrell Suggs ($6.4 million). I'm fairly certain the Ravens didn't ask Suggs to take a pay cut.

Baltimore could restructure the contracts of guard Marshal Yanda ($4.5 million this year) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($4 million), but as the Steelers know, that pushes the cap hit into future seasons. The team could also free up $3 million by cutting fullback Vonta Leach, who had a decidedly smaller role in 2012.

The Ravens have made the tough calls in the past. They took heat when they parted ways with tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason. Baltimore has since replaced them with tight end Pitta and wide receiver Torrey Smith. Unless the Ravens expect to find another Smith in the draft, it's not a clear choice on who would replace Boldin.

Even though Boldin hasn't put up the same numbers that he did when he was in Arizona, he still led the Ravens in receiving yards in all three seasons in Baltimore. He is physical enough to pull down catches in traffic in the end zone and the back-shoulder throw from Joe Flacco on a critical third down late in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens rewarded Flacco after his stellar performance in the playoffs. Now they want to take money away from Boldin, who was a big factor in making Flacco look so good. Boldin, 32, has said he would retire if the Ravens cut him. Considering what Boldin has done for the Ravens, it would be a shame if it came down to that.

*UPDATE: Boldin told Schefter that, as far as he is concerned and knows, he is planning to play for Baltimore next season under the terms of his current contract.