Well first I should say that I’m sorry about my long absence from writing for the site, as I have been pursuing another favorite pursuit of mine – acting – and you can find me playing Mr. Hyde in the Vagabond Players production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through March 30 – to that regard.
Now, to the Ravens: the indefatigable TL was dead-on in saying that applying the franchise tag on lineman Eugene Monroe was a bad idea for the team. Monroe’s not an elite offensive lineman – certainly an above-average one- but not elite, and that is what the franchise tag’s salary cap-crunching pay is meant for – the cream of the crop.
Dennis Pitta, Joe Flacco’s target de rigueur IS an elite tight end, a mismatch machine who helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl by being, like now-re-signed 49ers WR Anquan Boldin, a go-to guy.
But the Ravens solved that problem with a long-term deal to keep Pitta a Raven, keep best-friend Flacco happy, and keep a critical element of the Ravens offense a part of the team.
But doesn’t it also seem like the Ravens are back to the offensive drawing board? According to Aaron Wilson of The Sun, the sides were “far apart” as the franchise tag deadline approached on snowy March 3rd and with multiple teams in need of reliable and young offensive tackles, a bidding war might ensue.
The Ravens are approaching the 2014 season with a number of major question marks on the OL particularly after coming off a terrible, injury-marred 2013 season. Michael Oher is a free agent, and while the Ravens can talk about re-signing him, winning a potential bidding war for his services will be an obstacle, and Oher surely will test the market.
Kelechi Osemele is coming back off injury, guard Marshal Yanda (the former Pro Bowler) is coming off a subpar season (which still earned him a Pro Bowl slot albeit), and center Gino Gradkowski is coming off a season in which, at times, he was simply pushed around by physical D-lineman. The other linemen-by-committee including Rick Wagner and AQ Shipley have been inconsistent.
So what are the Ravens’ options?
Other than the draft – where they have the 17th pick – where a good, soon-to-be starting OL may or may not still be available – the Ravens have other options in free agency.
NFL Network, curiously, ranks Monroe as the top available free agent – ahead of Brandon Albert of the Chiefs and Jared Veldheer of the Raiders. Alex Mack, the Browns free agent center, is listed as the top center but that seems more a factor of his young age – 26 – than strictly playing ability.
However, there may be bargains to be had at multiple positions: Zane Beadles of the Broncos is a versatile OL who has playoff experience and AFC experience protecting Peyton Manning. He might be a find for the Ravens’ budget.
Jon Asamoah is a solid player who played alongside Albert on the Chiefs and helped Andy Reid’s unit become a powerhouse in the running game helping open up holes for Jamal Charles.
Though, as the NFL Network points out, Asamoah lost his starting job late last season, he is a strong player whose value might have dipped a little if teams wonder if the Chiefs know something they did not.
If Osemele can come back healthy, and Yanda can return to 2012 form, the Ravens just need to get solid players from free agency, and maybe a draft pick to get better.
Spending some of their approximate $24-25 million cap underage (after Pitta) on O-line makes a lot of sense, since protecting Flacco is critical to fixing things in 2014, along with being able to better create holes for a running game, which, if effective, can be a good Flacco-protector in and of itself.
Gradkowski needs to go at center. He’s undersized, was shoved around way too often, and his learning curve has at times been slow. That’s not what the team needs in protecting its $100 million QB, a student learning how to play center, but rather an elite center who takes D-linemen to school.
Former Colt A.Q. Shipley was supposed to be Gradkowski’s backup at center, but due to injuries, was introduced to other positions on the line, and wasn’t very effective at that, but was more or less a need fill for the team.
With that in mind and on the heels of the Browns (smart) move to transition tag Mack, the Ravens should pursue another veteran like Brian De La Puente or Evan Dietrich-Smith. The formula of signing a vet makes sense and either of those two would be a great fit.
The Ravens know from having Matt Birk how important a reliable center can be, and getting Flacco a center he can truly trust to help him is a smart move worth paying for, with a team that does have options.