The Ravens offensive line held up relatively well last season. Still, entering the draft and free agency, center and guard appear to be two of the team’s biggest offseason needs. In their 23-17 playoff loss to the Chargers, Baltimore’s offensive line was manhandled and the entire offense struggled as a result.
Ever since Matt Birk retired following the Ravens Super Bowl victory, the center position has been a bit of a revolving door. Baltimore has experimented with several different players like Gino Gradkowski, Jeremy Zuttah, Ryan Jensen, and most recently, Matt Skura.
Gradkowski and Zuttah were inconsistent and failed to stick around for more than two seasons. While Jensen was talented but played his way out of the Ravens price range after a career-best season in 2017.
For the past two seasons, undrafted free agent Matt Skura has held down a starting job along the offensive line. Based on his performance, it is fair to say that the Ravens could stand to upgrade at the center position heading into next year.
Skura struggled in 2017-18, and this past season he earned a 58.2 grade on PFF, which ranked 23rd among all centers in the NFL. Skura does not possess any great qualities that you want in a center, as he lacks physicality and discipline.
His inconsistencies can be masked if surrounded by a strong supporting cast, but the performance at the left guard position, where Alex Lewis and James Hurst saw the majority of action, also left much to be desired.
As the Ravens retool their offensive towards a run-centric scheme in Lamar Jackson’s first full year as the starting quarterback, recently-promoted offensive coordinator Greg Roman recognizes the need to bolster the offensive line.
“We have to have a strong, powerful offensive line,” said Roman in a recent press conference. “That’s where it all starts, domination up front.”
The Ravens could look to draft an interior offensive lineman with their first-round pick or with one of their two third-round selections, but they could also explore the free agent market for some offensive line help. Luckily, there are quite a few strong options, including Matt Paradis.
Paradis, 29, is currently recovering from a fractured fibula injury he suffered early in November. Prior to this injury, however, Paradis boasted an impressive streak of playing 3,850 consecutive snaps. Paradis has played the past five seasons in Denver, but the Broncos are reportedly unlikely to resign him.
The longtime Bronco has elevated his play in recent seasons and has become one of the more consistent, well-rounded centers in the league since earning a starting role in 2015. Before suffering an injury last season, Paradis graded out as the second-best center in the league with a 79.0 grade.
His run-blocking ability was instrumental in the emergence of undrafted rookie running back Phillip Lindsay, as well as the strong play of former Broncos back C.J. Anderson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2017.
Spotrac isn’t currently projecting Paradis’ market value, but he figures to see a substantial raise over his currently salary of just below $3 million dollars. For reference, here are the highest paid centers in the league by annual salary:
- Ryan Jensen - $10,500,000
- Brandon Linder - $10,340,600
- Weston Richburg - $9,500,000
- Travis Frederick - $9,400,00
- Alex Mack - $9,000,000
His recent fibula injury could potentially affect his market value, but given his consistency and strong play in recent years, Paradis has an argument to earn somewhere in the ballpark of the above top earning centers.
The Ravens were not willing to empty their pocket books to keep Ryan Jensen in town when he hit the free agent market, but the circumstances are different now. Baltimore has more cap space and flexibility than the have in quite some time, and the offensive line appears to be more important than ever to the team’s success.
Upgrading the center position should be high on the Ravens offseason to-do list, and if Eric DeCosta is serious about doing so, then Matt Paradis makes for a good target in free agency.