Would the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots still be where they are today if they swapped their top wide receivers? It's a timely question as the Ravens prepare to play at the Patriots in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff round.
Ten months ago, the Ravens were in the midst of a free-agent visit with Steve Smith while reportedly expressing interest in Julian Edelman. The Ravens signed Smith that day in order to keep him from meeting with the Patriots, and New England re-signed Edelman a day later.
For the short term, the Ravens got a better value in signing Smith over Edelman. Smith finished with more yards receiving (1,065), touchdowns (six) and 20-plus-yard catches (15) than Edelman (972 yards receiving, four touchdowns and seven 20-plus-yard catches).
Those numbers look even better when you factor in that the Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $10.5 million deal. A Ravens official later said the team was considering paying Edelman $5 million per season.
The Ravens aren't second-guessing this decision because Smith has given the offense an emotional edge and has wanted the ball on third down. In fact, the Ravens believe they got their Edelman-like receiver when they drafted Michael Campanaro in the seventh round of the 2014 draft.
It will take another couple of seasons to see if the Ravens made the right move in the long run. There are no guarantees that Smith, who turns 36 this year, will finish out the contract. The Ravens can free up $1.8 million by releasing Smith after this season, and $3 million after the 2015 season.
Edelman, who is seven years younger than Smith, has a better shot at playing out his four-year, $17 million deal with the Patriots. He has caught over 90 passes in each of the past two seasons.
So would the Ravens and Patriots be playing for a trip to the AFC Championship Game if Smith and Edelman were on the other team? Probably so. Even though they are different receivers with different personalities, each brought a certain level of productivity that wouldn't have drastically changed his team's fortune.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't address how much interest the Ravens had in Edelman when asked about the receiver on Monday.
"He’s a guy you have to know where he’s at at all times," Harbaugh said. "He can play anywhere -- in the backfield, he lines up at all the receiver positions. He’s a great football player.”