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Baltimore Ravens 2016 NFL Offseason - Free Agent Breakdown: OL Kelechi Osemele

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K.O. will become the highest paid of all the Ravens free agents this offseason. The decision to either resign Osemele or allow him to sign with another team will shape the Ravens offseason almost as much as Joe Flacco's contract negotiations. Can the Ravens afford to resign Osemele? Can they afford to let him leave the organization?

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The Ravens drafted Kelechi Osemele in the second round, #60 overall, in the 2012 NFL draft.  Osemele began his rookie season at Right Tackle, starting 14 games in the regular season. He showed tenacity in his run blocking while also showing vulnerability to speed rushers around the edge.  Once Jim Caldwell took over as the Ravens offensive coordinator, K.O. was shifted to Left Guard and the reshuffled offensive line allowed QB Joe Flacco to excel in the playoffs, culminating in a Super Bowl championship.

Kelechi's second season was derailed by a back injury that rendered him ineffective and landed him on injured reserve after 7 games.  In 2014, Osemele started all 16 games at Left Guard and established himself as one of the best guards in the league.  Pro Football Focus put K.O. on their All Pro team and graded him as the 6th best guard in the league in 2014, 4th best at run blocking while allowing only 2 sacks.

Last season, Kelechi started the season slow while playing through a knee injury.  In Week 14, with LT Eugene Monroe proving injury prone and unreliable, the Ravens kicked Osemele out to left tackle, the position he played at Iowa State.  He fared reasonably well over the final 4 games at the toughest position on the line, helping to give the Ravens backup QBs time in the pocket and establish a better run game with mauling guards Ryan Jensen and Marshall Yanda.  Pro Football Focus rated Osemele with a 93.0 grade in 2015 and rank him as the 3rd best offensive unrestricted free agent behind only WR Alshon Jeffery and LT Cordy Glenn.

Osemele is clearly one of the top 5-10 players on the team and the Ravens would like to resign him if the price is reasonable.  The Ravens signed RG Marshall Yanda to a 4 year $37.4 million contract last October, a move that some believed signaled the Ravens had chosen the elite lineman Yanda over the left guard again, like they did after the 2011 season when they signed him instead of 1st round OG Ben Grubbs.  However, the versatility Osemele showed while playing left tackle at the end of the season, combined with the fact that the Ravens do not have as many young core players on their roster as they did in 2011, lend hope to a resigning of Osemele.

K.O.'s second contract will not come cheap.  Last offseason, the Cardinals signed Mike Iupati, a comparable guard to Osemele, to a 5 year $40 million contract with $22.5M guaranteed and $8M annual average.  The Packers recently signed guard Josh Sitton to a 5 year $33.75M contract averaging $6.75M annually.  If Osemele's agent pushes for left tackle money, the price will be even higher.  Comparable left tackle contracts include Miami's Brandon Albert at 5 years, $47M, Houston's Duane Brown at 6 year, $53.4M and the Ravens own Eugene Monroe who signed for 5 years at $37.5M.  Unless Osemele is willing to take a hometown discount, which seems unlikely since this is his first opportunity to cash in, the team will have to pay him something between $7 and $9.5 million annually to retain his services.

Unforeseen circumstances and the challenge of competing for a championship every season in the salary cap era has left the Ravens in a difficult salary cap position entering the 2016 offseason.  Right now, the Ravens have essentially zero cap space to resign their pending free agents and bring in free agents from other teams.  Restructuring or extending QB Joe Flacco's mega contract is expected to give the team some space to maneuver this offseason. However, judging from his agent Linta's reputation, it seems unlikely a new deal will be reached before the start of free agency.  Fortunately, the Ravens can create between $15-$20 million by releasing some under-performing or aging players, including Eugene Monroe, Justin Forsett, Dennis Pitta, Chris Canty, Lardarius Webb, Daryl Smith and Kyle Arrington.

The Ravens front office did begin contract discussions with Osemele before the late season shift to Left Tackle, but GM Ozzie Newsome admitted at the State of the Ravens Press Conference that they had the same discussions with WR Torrey Smith and OLB/DE Pernell McPhee last year before they signed with other teams.  The Ravens live by the "Right Player, Right Price" strategy.

Resigning Osemele is not an easy decision.  If the Ravens do decide to release some aging veterans, especially Monroe and Webb, they will absorb a substantial amount of new dead money that will hinder their cap flexibility in future seasons and commit to paying two high paid offensive lineman who are best playing guard.  If they decide to watch Osmele sign elsewhere, they run the risk of depending on the unreliable Monroe to protect Flacco's blindside as he returns from injury or having to spend a high draft pick on a offensive tackle while the team desperately needs to add more playmakers on defense in the upcoming draft.

Kelechi Osemele has proven to be an above average left tackle in limited time there.  If the Left Tackle position is indeed overvalued, as many posters have suggested recently, he still provides great value to the team as an elite level left guard.  Osemele has shown great positional versatility and the ability to play through injuries in his four seasons with the Ravens.  Kelechi is a dominating run blocker with the ability to block linebackers at the second level.  He brings a toughness and tenacity to the offensive line that suits Coach Harbaugh's philosophy perfectly.  And he has the ability to make the players around him better, as evidenced by LT James Hurst and LG Ryan Jensen's relative success lining up next to K.O. in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  Most importantly, Osemele is a proven, above average player entering the prime of his career on a team that does not have as many Pro Bowl caliber players in their prime years as they did in years past.

While signing Osemele will be painful from an immediate cap casualty and 2016 offseason flexibility standpoint, it would put the Ravens in a much stronger position for the future with another foundational core player in his prime on the roster.  At this juncture in the franchise's history, the Ravens cannot afford to let Osemele walk for a contract that is only slightly more than they believe he is worth.  After a 5 win season, the Raven's front office should think long term this offseason.