The deadline to apply the Franchise Tag came and went Monday afternoon, and the Baltimore Ravens opted not to slap it on left tackle Eugene Monroe. As a result, the team is quickly approaching a dire situation that could materialize one week from today.
If the Ravens fail to sign Monroe to a long-term deal prior to March 11 – which seems like the most likely scenario right now – the 26-year old will be free to sign with any team.
With other tackle-needy teams having plenty of cap space to make Monroe one of the highest paid tackles in the NFL, bringing him back to Baltimore once he hits the open market is very unlikely.
If Monroe indeed ends up elsewhere and Baltimore’s 2013 “rental” fails to lead to a “buy,” then the organization will be without a starting tackle on either side, as right tackle Michael Oher is also set to be a free agent.
On the roster, the only possible candidate to be a starting tackle in 2014 is second-year lineman Ricky Wagner, but even that scenario may be a bit farfetched at this point.
In the event that both Monroe and Oher leave the team, it’s likely the Ravens will have to turn to free agency and the draft to fill both voids.
Without possibly having to give Monroe a long-term, lucrative deal, the cap situation for the Ravens would be favorable, and they would still have plenty of financial freedom to sign another high-caliber tackle in free agency – should they elect to go that route. At left tackle though, they may not really have another choice – do they really want a rookie LT protecting Joe Flacco’s blind side?
Monroe would be the prize of the offensive tackle class, but there are plenty of other viable options set to hit the open market?
Who could be of interest to the Ravens?
Like Monroe, Jared Veldheer is a young franchise left tackle who is entering his prime.
Prior to the 2013 season, Veldheer’s career was on an upward swing toward becoming one of the better young left tackles in the NFL. A triceps injury hampered his season last year, though, limiting him to just the final five contests of the season for the Oakland Raiders.
If the Ravens are looking for a balanced option at left tackle – someone who doesn’t have a particular weakness in either pass or run blocking – Veldheer could be a long-term option for the franchise.
But like Monroe, the fact that Veldheer is only 26 means he is set for a hefty pay day in free agency, and could end up being worth more than the Ravens can afford to invest into one position.
Perhaps the forgotten man of the free agent tackle class now that neither Monroe nor Veldheer received the franchise tag, the 29-year-old Albert could end up being a cheaper option than either of the two younger left tackles.
Once considered to be one of the hot commodities of potential available left tackles, Albert’s inability to stay healthy over the past two seasons has raised doubts about his dependability. If a team is going to commit around $40 million for a player of Albert’s caliber, that team shouldn’t have to be worried about whether or not he can play a full season; however, with Albert, that worry is justified.
He’ll turn 30 during the 2014 season, and his long-term durability is a risk teams such as the Ravens will have to think about before coughing up a large salary over the next four-five years.
Nonetheless, Albert may still be the third-best tackle available if Monroe and Veldheer both hit the market, and if he can stay healthy he could be a viable left tackle option.
One of the best-kept secrets in the NFL last season was Anthony Collins. The former Cincinnati Bengals backup stepped in at left tackle, started 14 games and passed the test with flying colors.
He had few slip-ups in pass protection, and showed the potential of a long-term option for an NFL team at the position.
Buyer beware: 2013 was Collins’ first near-full season as a starter despite being in the NFL for six seasons, so there is a bit of an unknown element for whichever NFL team signs him.
But if the Ravens are looking for a cheaper option, yet someone who may be worthwhile despite the step down in talent from, say, Monroe, Veldheer or Albert, Collins is the guy.
With little starting experience, it’s tough to gauge just how valued he will be by NFL teams in free agency. Still, if he can be had for a much cheaper amount than the top tackle options in free agency, Collins could be the perfect fit in Baltimore.
For a team that has plenty of other needs – especially at right tackle – finding a cheaper long-term option at left tackle would give the Ravens more room to work with in 2014 as well as in future offseasons.
Howard, 26, was on the Ravens practice squad back in 2011. Could he make a return to the organization to fill the void at right tackle?
He only has two years of starting experience, but as the starting right tackle for the New York Jets, Howard developed into a player worthy of a payday this offseason.
Listed at 6’7, Howard’s size is noticeable – unfortunately, it works both for him and against him. As a pass blocker, Howard is an effortless mover who held down the right side of the Jets offense admirably.
As a run blocker, Howard is a slow mover who struggles to get leverage at times, and wouldn’t be the best option for the Ravens and their zone-blocking scheme.
Howard makes the list, however, due to the value he provides in pass protection, and the fact he could be one of the cheaper starting tackles in free agency.
Note: this year’s free agent tackle class is deep with starting options at both left tackle and right tackle, so not every possibility is discussed here. Have another name in mind that didn’t make the list? Leave a comment letting us know!