After the Baltimore Ravens suffered an embarrassing loss to the Buffalo Bills in late September, things were looking grim.
The defending Super Bowl champions sat at 2-2 and looked like a .500 team at best, which turned out to be the case at season’s end.
After the Buffalo game, the “desperate times call for desperate measures” tactic was employed, and general manager Ozzie Newsome made a rare in-season trade.
The Ravens – fed up with left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s sporadic play and effort – phoned the Jacksonville Jaguars, who shipped off premier left tackle Eugene Monroe for two 2014 draft picks (fourth and fifth round).
At the time, acquiring Monroe appeared to be the potential missing piece to a middling offense. Looking back, acquiring Monroe undoubtedly improved the left tackle position, but he was only able to do so much to improve Baltimore’s putrid offensive line play.
He provided the best left tackle play Ravens fans have seen in Baltimore since Jonathan Ogden’s days, but now that the season is over, is Monroe’s short-lived career in Baltimore over as well?
He is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and that was the only negative of the trade. Giving up two mid-round draft picks for a rental of Monroe was a risk, especially since the Ravens failed to make the playoffs.
But if the Ravens did enough this season to sell the city and team to the 26-year old, then re-signing Monroe would be the best move the team could make this offseason.
With right tackle Michael Oher also set to be an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens can’t afford to go into 2014 with two new starting tackles. It’s unlikely the Ravens heavily pursue an Oher return, and odds are they’ll turn their attention completely toward Monroe, and rightfully so.
He was Baltimore’s best offensive player this season, and likely would be again in 2014 if he returns.
Prime left tackles are not a dime a dozen, and Baltimore has its chance to lock up an offensive cornerstone.
Let’s take a look at how Monroe excelled in 2013, and why he should be the No. 1 priority in Baltimore’s offseason plans.
The obvious desire for a shutdown left tackle is for pass protection, but Monroe also excelled in run blocking. Against the New England Patriots, Monroe faced one of the most lengthy defensive ends in the league in Chandler Jones.
The length of Jones allows him to excel in run defense by shedding short-armed blocks. For most of the game, Jones lined up wide outside of Monroe, sometimes in a standup role, but in this case as a regular 4-3 end.
With the run play toward Monroe’s side, every Patriots defender in the box keys in and makes a play on the run.
Where Monroe earned his money this season was in pass protection, however, where he was more consistent than McKinnie or Oher ever were during their Ravens careers was in the running game.
On a passing situation in the same game, Monroe faced a confusing look on his side.
With Jones standing up and two pass catchers on Monroe’s side, this could be the recipe for a missed block.
Only Jones rushes, and Monroe is patient enough to wait for Jones to come to him.
He combats the length of Jones with some length of his own, and seals the pass rusher off to give quarterback Joe Flacco a squeaky clean pocket.
Earlier in the season, Monroe faced another talented defensive end in Jared Allen.
What makes Monroe so consistent in pass protection is that he is able to rebound from a mistake in time to avoid giving up a sack.
Monroe faces a look from Allen similar to what Jones provided.
Allen gets leverage on Monroe upon impact, which puts Monroe in a hand-holding situation.
At this point, the advantage goes to Allen, who tries to go around Monroe instead of through him.
Monroe sticks with the play and seals Allen off behind Flacco, giving him a favorable pocket.
It was a rarity to see a costly mistake by Monroe this season, and he turned out to be the only sure thing on Baltimore’s offense.
For an offensive unit that struggled every week, Monroe managed to avoid being a part of the offensive woes. He was the only constant on the offensive side of the ball for Baltimore, and proved to be a beneficial signing.
If the Ravens fail to re-sign Monroe, however, they essentially gave away two draft picks for close to nothing, as Monroe’s 2013 performance still didn’t change Baltimore’s playoff fate.
But if he is still in the Charm City in 2014 and for years to come, the Ravens will have just the second franchise left tackle in team history.