Entering this offseason, fixing the offensive line is number one on the Ravens’ agenda. This unit was in flux all season, as Matt Birk retired, Eugene Monroe was acquired, Bryant McKinnie was traded, and Kelechi Osemele struggled with injuries. With all of these changes and poor overall play, the offensive line allowed 48 sacks and 91 hits of quarterback Joe Flacco, while finishing 30th in the NFL in rushing yards.
Offensive tackles account for just 2 of the 5 offensive linemen, but are often under the most scrutiny. They are charged with blocking the best pass rushers in the league and get paid well to do it, coming in as the 3rd most expensive position behind defensive ends (the ones they are blocking) and quarterbacks (the ones they are blocking for).
The Ravens current situation:
The offensive line was so bad this year that Ozzie Newsome felt the need to make a high profile in-season trade involving multiple Ravens draft picks, something he never does. The trade involved sending the Ravens’ 4th and 5th round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Eugene Monroe, an impending free agent.
While the offensive line still struggled, Monroe did not. Make no mistake, Monroe is a dominant, franchise left tackle that the Ravens will do everything to retain. Ozzie would not give up multiple draft picks for a ½ season player. He will be very expensive, but signing him would give stability to the left tackle position, something the Ravens have not had since Jon Ogden.
Michael Oher has had a rocky tenure as a Raven. After being drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, Oher has started every single game at either left or right tackle. He seems to have found a home on the right side, however, and will get paid like it this offseason.
Oher seems to have lost some of his mean streak since he was ripping helmets off as a rookie, and although he played dominant during last year’s Superbowl run, is largely unreliable. He is also one of the most penalized players in the NFL during his tenure, racking up 46 penalties, mostly for holding and false starts.
Since he is also a free agent, the only situation where I see Oher returning is if the Ravens fail to address the right tackle position in free agency or the draft and Oher is still available when training camp starts.
The fifth round pick Rick Wagner played well in his appearances his rookie year. Used as an extra blocker in short yardage situations, Wagner continually helped seal the edge and get movement on down blocks and kick outs. Wagner’s only extended playing time, however, did not go so well. When Oher was knocked out of the season opener versus the Broncos, Wagner was called in to play in his first ever NFL game and got burned by veteran Shaun Phillips for 3 sacks.
Wagner is the top in-house candidate to take over the right tackle spot, assuming Oher leaves. It is worth mentioning that Juan Castillo, the Ravens offensive line coach, has an excellent history of developing mid round draft picks into quality NFL offensive lineman.
Kelechi Osemele started his entire rookie season at right tackle, where he was solid, before being moved to left guard during the Superbowl run. Things really clicked for Osemele at left guard, as he was dominant during that stretch and even manhandled the San Francisco 49er’s Justin Smith in the Superbowl. The Ravens kept him at guard in his second season before placing him on IR due to a lingering back injury that was affecting his play. While he has the potential to be a good tackle, Osemele has the potential to be a great guard, and the Ravens know it.
The former 3rd round pick’s days in Ravens may be numbered, barring a huge turnaround. Jah Reid has had every chance to start at either tackle or guard, but has consistently been beat out and was inactive more often than not last season.
Free Agents of Interest:
*Note- If you’re looking for a list of high profile free agents such as Brandon Albert, stop reading. The Ravens do not target those types of free agents, so this list is comprised of mid-to-low tier players who fit the Ravens’ need and price range.
Eric Winston, Arizona Cardinals
Of all free agent tackles, Winston makes the most sense. Winston was one of the top right tackles in the league for the Houston Texans, where he played under Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. After being released by Houston due to salary cap constrictions, Winston played solidly for the Chiefs and then struggled with the Cardinals.
The Ravens were interested in him after he was released from the Texans, and they could be again this offseason. He is a low-risk-high-reward type signing that makes almost too much sense for the Ravens to ignore.
Anthony Collins, Cincinnati Bengals
Anthony Collins saw extended playing time this season after Andrew Whitworth was forced to play guard due to injuries. There is no need for the Bengals to retain him, and while he played extremely average at left tackle, he could reach the next level as a right tackle. Collins may be out of the Ravens price range, however, depending on how free agency shakes out (which will largely depend on the contract the Ravens offer Monroe).
David Stewart, Tennessee Titans
David Stewart, much like Winston, used to be considered a top tier right tackle and helped pave the way for CJ2K’s 2K season. Stewart could be signed as a short term solution and provide a veteran presence to let Rick Wagner develop into a starter.