Following a breakout season, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen will be the Baltimore Ravens most sought after unrestricted free agent this offseason. Jensen started all 16 games at center for the team, bringing powerful run blocking, toughness and physicality to the line. He ranked as the 9th best center in the NFL last year according to Pro Football Focus. A former sixth round pick from Colorado State-Pueblo, Ryan signed a 1-year $1.8 million tender last April.
“It’s been an awesome five years and I hope to be back here, but I’m going to see where life takes me. I’m going to go with the ebbs and flows of life,” Jensen told Ryan Mink after the season concluded. In the prime of his career at 26 years old, this offseason represents the best opportunity for Jensen to secure generational money.
The highest paid center in the NFL is the Jaguars Brandon Linder, who inked a 5-year $52 million deal last July. Travis Frederick, Alex Mack, Justin Britt, Mike Pouncey, Rodney Hudson, Maurkice Pouncey, Corey Linsley, Ryan Kalil and Eric Wood round out the top ten most generously compensated at the position, each averaging at least $8 million annually. Worth noting, many of these players were extended by their teams before reaching the bidding wars of free agency.
J.C. Tretter left the Packers for the Browns on a 3-year $17 million contract last offseason despite starting just ten career games previously. The upcoming free agent crop includes a few high end guards, but Jensen will clearly be the best center available.
Market forces will favor Jensen, as quality blockers are in short supply across the league, and the seemingly annual almost ten percent increase in the salary cap will give many teams already flush with space even more room to maneuver.
Jensen may not be as proven as some of the best paid centers, but his strong contract year performance and age, along with the factors listed above should generate long term offers in the range of $6 to $9 million per season.
It would not be surprising if the Ravens allowed Jensen to walk. They have some of the least cap flexibility in the league, and will also be in the market for pass catchers. Baltimore's front office allowed starting offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele and Ricky Wagner to flee for greener pastures in each of the last two offseasons.
Further complicating the decision, Matt Skura projects as a capable in-house replacement. The upcoming draft class also features multiple highly regarded center prospects. A potential 2019 compensatory draft choice if Jensen departs is also worth consideration.
Presently, the Ravens have allocated the 18th most 2018 salary to their offensive line, mostly due to left tackle Ronnie Stanley, guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Austin Howard who combine for cap hits in excess of $20 million. Their ranking in comparison to other teams will surely rise if the Ravens opt to re-sign Jensen or fellow impending unrestricted free agent James Hurst.
The conference championship games played on Sunday prove that Super Bowl teams need both sturdy blockers and playmaking receivers. Baltimore finds themselves in the unenviable position of needing to add or keep both this offseason, with relatively few assets to do so. The expected negotiations with Jensen will be a central issue for a franchise entering a pivotal offseason.
At what price point are the Ravens better off without Ryan Jensen?