LOMBARDI’S WAY: Ravens handling of J. Brown is like flirting with disaster

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Ravens handling of J. Brown is like flirting with disaster

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Jason Brown is a bright, articulate, community-centric member of the Baltimore Ravens. He was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Pro team and he is an emerging leader in the Ravens locker room.  If Jonathan Ogden retires as expected, Brown will be the most seasoned member of the Ravens’ developing offensive line.
The former North Carolina Tar Heel is a Restricted Free Agent (“RFA”) and word is that the Ravens will tender the three year veteran the second-round level compensation which will pay the versatile lineman $1.47 million in 2008, provided he is a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
A second-round tender gives the Ravens the right to match any contract offer extended to Brown by another club.  If the Ravens choose not to match such an offer, the new club would have to give the Ravens a second round pick.
Now on the surface, that may seem like a fair offer for Brown given that he was a fourth round selection by the Ravens in 2005.  But Brown has performed at or beyond the Ravens expectations.  He is an emerging force as an interior lineman and some team with ample cap room may stand up and take notice, particularly when the price is only a second round pick.
The Ravens don’t have much cap room, something that will not escape the notice of interested suitors for Brown’s services.  It is very conceivable perhaps even likely that another team in need of a guard will call the Ravens bluff and box the Ravens in by choking Ozzie Newsome with his own cap constraints.
You may recall that the Ravens tendered Chester Taylor the low tender offer back in 2005.  Seeing that the opportunity cost was only a sixth round pick, Cleveland’s Phil Savage seized the moment and offered Taylor a one year, $3 million contract.  The Ravens left themselves vulnerable and they were forced to match the offer given Jamal Lewis’ then uncertain health.
The cost to re-sign Taylor was double what it would have been had they only offered Taylor the mid-tender in 2005.  It is highly unlikely that anyone would have offered Taylor a contract then because the Ravens would have received a first round pick – clearly a price no GM would pay for the reserve running back.
So you think Ozzie may have learned from that mistake?
The Ravens handling of Jason Brown suggests that they haven’t learned a thing.
For just another $550,000 ($2.017 million is the price for a first round tender) the Ravens would receive a first pick if another team wants to give Jason Brown the farm.  Such a tender would serve two purposes.   First it might deter another club from backing up the Brinks Truck for Brown and give the Ravens the chance to fulfill their reported goal with Brown – that is to strike a long-term deal.
Secondly should another team still want to lure Brown away, the first round compensation is clearly worth the additional investment of $550,000.  Wouldn’t Ozzie jump at the opportunity to spend that much to move from the second round to the first?
Still Ozzie is willing to take the risk of tendering Brown only the second round tender.
Take a look around the league.  The price for interior lineman is climbing rapidly.  The Vikings invested $49 million in All-Pro Steve Hutchinson back in 2006.  Last offseason we watched the Buffalo Bills pony up $49 million for the great Derrick Dockery.  The four year free agent guard’s deal included $23 million over the first three years of his 7 year deal and $18 million of it was guaranteed.  Not once before or since his signing has Dockery taken a snap in Honolulu.
You don’t think that someone could throw that kind of dough at Brown?
And if someone does, Brown is gone because it’s highly unlikely the Ravens could afford to keep him given their somewhat unfavorable cap position.  Then Ozzie is left with a second round pick and Chris Chester to take over for the soon to be departed Mike Flynn.
I’m sorry folks the jury is still out on Chester.  He may be able to get out in space and create havoc with linebackers and even safeties but at the point of attack, I’ve seen Chester in the backfield too many times and when the pocket collapses in the middle, it places a heavy burden on the flanks and with Jonathan Ogden knocking on retirement’s door, I’m not optimistic about a line without Jason Brown.
The Ravens probably have the youthful depth to replace Brown at guard if he’s lost.  But count me among those who see Brown as a center.  I like the prospects of an interior line of Ben Grubbs, Brown and Marshal Yanda. 
You think Phil Savage is watching?
I bet the Steelers are too.
The Steelers have long been known as an organization that will not be held for ransom and they won’t start with free agent guard Alan Faneca.  Might Brown be a decent backup plan if the Rooneys fail to re-sign Faneca?  The Steelers are in a better cap position than the Ravens and wouldn’t a Brown signing represent a double-dip of sorts for Pittsburgh?  Not only do they efficiently fill a hole but they also weaken a divisional rival.
I hope I’m wrong.  I hope that the rest of the league sees a second round pick for Brown as a bit too expensive. But somehow I don’t think so.  To think that way is a bit naïve given the recent trend towards paying guards top dollar.  So if you are Ozzie, would you risk losing Brown for another $550,000?
"[Jason’s] on his way up," said Harold Lewis, Browns’ agent.  "It’s a great situation in Baltimore, and Jason is excited about being a big part of it. My ultimate goal is to get him a contract that will exceed all his expectations."
I’ve got to believe that a second round tender is not what Lewis has in mind.
This potentially difficult signing is a bit like that old Fram Oil Filter slogan: “Pay me now or pay me later.” If Ozzie loses this chess match as he did with Chester Taylor, this one could be even more costly. 
And it could cost Ozzie more than just Steve Bisciotti’s money.
Photo by Sabina Moran

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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