If a week ago someone told you that all of these things would be true after the first day of free agency, you probably would have just laughed:
- Eugene Monroe is a Baltimore Raven
- The Ravens signed Monroe for only $37.5 million over five years
- Baltimore still has over $15 million in cap space AFTER signing Monroe
Nonetheless, all of those things are true as we sit here nine days after the Ravens opted to take the risk of not applying the franchise tag to Monroe, which would have paid him over $11 million in 2014.
The risk was significant, but Baltimore won the left tackle portion of free agency, as they managed to sign Monroe to a much cheaper contract than what fellow free agents Rodger Saffold and Branden Albert received.
Five years, $37.5 million is a bargain in every sense of the word for the Ravens and Monroe.
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed tackle Jason Peters to a five-year deal worth over $48 million last month, it appeared that Monroe would be able to earn a similar contract in free agency, likely from a team other than the Ravens.
The free agent left tackle market wasn’t a price-driven auction on the first day, however, as many of the key tackles signed right away for reasonable deals, giving the Ravens leverage on Monroe.
That led to the Ravens and Monroe finalizing their talks with this:
The most notable number in Monroe’s contract is his first-year cap number of $3.2 million, which is quite low for a top-tier left tackle.
His largest cap hits come in the final two years of his deal, but at just $8.95 million, the price is still more than reasonable.
Compare the chart above to what Branden Albert received from the Miami Dolphins, and the deal looks even better:
It’s safe to call this one a victory for Baltimore’s front office.
Where most of Monroe’s value is evident is in his pass blocking, where he provided noticeable improvement over Bryant McKinnie after the change was made at left tackle last October.
Monroe allowed three sacks in his 11-game stint in Baltimore last season, with two coming in a game against the Chicago Bears in the mud, his worst game of the season in pass protection.
His other allowed sack came in his first game as a Raven, when Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry drove right through him.
Over the course of the season, though, Monroe was consistently a reliable force in pass protection, and was never a liability in that aspect.
With as bad as Baltimore’s offensive line was in 2013, it was hard to notice when Monroe was performing well, as he was often overshadowed by poor play from three or four other linemen on a play-by-play basis.
In pass protection, Monroe’s biggest asset is his innate ability to maintain balance while keeping a wider base than many other NFL offensive tackles.
On his kick-out after the snap, Monroe can often keep control and balance despite his wide base.
That typically can prevent a pass rusher from having the space to go around Monroe, so instead they must attempt to go through him.
Monroe’s initial punch typically gives him the advantage, though.
At this point he has full control, and can effortlessly seal off his man.
Monroe isn’t perfect in pass protection, but he surely is the best option for the Ravens since 2007.
Like the rest of Baltimore’s offensive line last season, Monroe had more than his fair share of struggles as a run blocker.
Transitioning to the zone-blocking scheme, Monroe often failed to seal off his man at the second level, and was responsible at times for Baltimore’s inability to gain hardly any yards on the ground.
His struggles weren’t as persistent as the rest of the offensive line, and having A.Q. Shipley and Gino Gradkowski playing to his right usually made it easy to forget Monroe’s slip-ups, as they were much more rare than his left guard and center counterparts.
Monroe and right guard Marshal Yanda were fairly even as run blockers, but neither was capable of making a noticeable difference in the middling run game. His value for the Ravens comes mainly as a pass protector, but Monroe still provides above average run blocking, which certainly helps Baltimore’s cause.
Where Monroe excels can sometimes be hard to notice, but oftentimes last season he helped turn negative run plays into positive ones, even if the difference was only a few yards.
Here, with the run play to his side, Monroe loses position on Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, and at this point Johnson could easily dip around Monroe’s right shoulder, meeting running back Bernard Pierce in the hole for no gain or even a loss.
Monroe manages to regain positioning on Johnson and has the advantage as Pierce approaches his side.
He is able to seal off Johnson just enough to let Pierce have a clean running lane, before being brought down after only a few yards.
Plays like these often go unnoticed, but they add up over time, as it allows the offense to sustain drives.
With an expected improved offensive line as a whole in 2014, Monroe’s impact may be more noticeable, as plays such as the one above could go for 10 or 15 yards, not just three or four.
The most important aspect of signing Monroe to such a reasonable deal is the fact that he will turn 27 in April.
Baltimore is getting their franchise left tackle in his prime, and will be paying about $8 million less in total money for Monroe over five years than what the Dolphins will pay Branden Albert – who is three years older – in the same amount of time.
Assuming Monroe plays out his entire contract in Baltimore, he’ll be just 31 years old when he hits the open market again in five years.
Getting a cornerstone left tackle who is just entering the prime of his career is a rarity in free agency, and to get one on a bargain deal is even more rare.
But the Ravens did both, and they now have their first franchise blindside protector since Jonathan Ogden.