OWINGS MILLS — When the season ended, the Baltimore Ravens made it clear that they would like to explore the possibility of retaining pending free agent offensive tackle Jared Gaither.
Now, they are following through on those statements.
The Ravens plan to speak with the 6-foot-9, 330-pound blocker Wednesday about the possibility of working out a new deal, discuss his health and gauge his desire to return.
Gaither missed the entire season with a thoracic disc injury in his upper back, but his health has improved, per a source.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome both said recently that they would like to hold onto Gaither.
"I would probably have to defer to Ozzie on what it will take to bring Jared back as far as a price tag and all that, but I would like to coach Jared Gaither," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, he’s a very talented guy. There’s so many factors that would determine whether that can happen or not, I’m not even sure what they all are. He’s definitely got the ability."
Depending upon whether Gaither is classified as a restricted free agent or an unrestricted free agent, the Ravens could retain his services without necessarily having to negotiate with him.
"Right now, based on the 2010 rules, we can tender Gaither," Newsome said. "He could still be the property of the Baltimore Ravens and John and I want to keep as many good players as we can keep."
Last year, Gaither was paid $2.396 million under a one-year restricted free agent tender.
The former University of Maryland blocker has said he wants to remain in Baltimore.
"This is where I started my career, and I would love to start and end my career in the same place," Gaither said late in the season. "With that being said, I love this organization. I love the camaraderie of the team. This is my place. Hopefully, I can come back."
If Gaither is healthy, the Ravens could install him as their left tackle again and shift Michael Oher back to the right side. That would also allow the Ravens to shift right tackle Marshal Yanda back to his natural right guard spot.
Oher struggled against speed rushers last season and committed eight false starts with a total of 11 penalties. The Ravens allowed 40 sacks last season, and the running game slumped one year removed from running back Ray Rice making the Pro Bowl as they ranked fifth in rushing during the 2009 season.
When asked if he would want to sign with another team if offered the chance to play left tackle, Gaither replied: "That’s a long way away. Obviously, my main focus and goal is to get healthy now and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Gaither hurt his back during the first week of training camp and was carted off the field with back spasms.
He was diagnosed with a thoracic disk condition and went to California twice to visit back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins.
Surgery was not recommended and no surgery is planned for the offseason.
"It’s been getting better," Gaither said. "I feel a lot better."
This was the most frustrating season ever for Gaither after starting for the Ravens for the past few seasons since being drafted in the fifth round of the supplemental draft.
The Ravens had issues with Gaither last year during the offseason about the severity of a bruised heel that sidelined him during offseason minicamps, and Harbaugh got upset when he didn’t report to the voluntary offseason conditioning program.
Gaither was disappointed to be placed on injured reserve, but never got healthy last season.
"Nobody wants to be put on IR," Gaither said. "Obviously, my initial reaction was I was disappointed about that, but I understand what has to go on in the organization. I take it in stride and I’m working hard to get healthy for next year.
"Obviously, I haven’t been able to play football. ‘It’s been pretty rough just having to watch, having an injury with my back. It’s been a rough year, but I take it all in stride and I’ll be ready for next year."