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Eisenberg: Ravens Make Admission With McKinnie Signing

Posted May 4, 2013

We've heard the word "foundation" a lot lately, but now it appears the Ravens are thinking repeat.

The word "foundation" has come up a lot as the Ravens have undertaken a significant roster overhaul since winning the Super Bowl.

General Manager Ozzie Newsome said he wanted to rebuild the middle of the defense, the foundation of that unit. Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta called the 2013 draft "a foundation draft" for the team, which I took to mean he wanted to obtain players who could help form a lasting cornerstone.

Used that way, the f-word is code for putting together a team that can consistently contend for the playoffs in the coming years; a team that is presumably younger and can develop together. Owner Steve Bisciotti has said that's what he wants, to be in the hunt every year as opposed to taking short-term stabs at winning in certain years.

That has been the idea behind most of the moves the Ravens have made since the Super Bowl, from signing Joe Flacco to plucking away Elvis Dumervil to drafting Matt Elam and Arthur Brown – setting a foundation for the foreseeable future.

But the re-signing of offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie is different. It's not a transaction with a long-range component.

The Ravens are bringing back McKinnie in an effort to win now, immediately, in 2013.

It's the closest we'll get to an admission that they think they can repeat and certainly are going to try.

If they were strictly looking toward the future, they would have let McKinnie, 33, sign with Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers, the other teams that showed interest. The Ravens know his age and that he comes with risks, that his dedication to conditioning has been suspect, and that he practiced so indifferently in 2012 that he didn't start a single regular-season game.

But they also know he is their best man for the crucial job of protecting Flacco's blind side in 2013, as he demonstrated during the Super Bowl run when he was finally given a chance and performed brilliantly.

He might not be a workout warrior, but he's a natural, a nimble giant who seemingly can frustrate the league's best rush ends pretty much when he feels like it.

I give the Ravens credit for swallowing a bit of pride and re-upping with him even though he doesn't fit their young, driven prototype.

They could have gone with Michael Oher at left tackle, as they did in 2012. They also recently floated the idea of putting Kelechi Osemele there. But McKinnie is preferable, and his signing sets up a best-case scenario for the line, allowing the Ravens to slot Oher at right tackle, which appears to be his best position, and Osemele at left guard, where he wore out opponents during the playoffs.

It seemingly removes the guesswork from a situation that has been unpredictable and hard to decipher at times. Barring a surprise, the starting five up front consists of McKinnie and Oher on the edges, Osemele and Marshal Yanda at guard and Gino Gradkowski in the middle.

It's a pretty young group, which fits the organization's plan to build a foundation. But obtaining a "franchise" left tackle is difficult unless you're drafting in the top 10 of the first round, where the Ravens haven't been in years, so they've resorted to the next best thing, partnering with a guy another team took in the top 10 (Minnesota in 2002).

Calling a 350-pound tackle a patch is a stretch; that's a zeppelin more than a patch. But McKinnie's signing is indeed a patch intended to help the Ravens win in the short term.

Maybe it was already evident they're trying to do that. Newcomers Chris Canty and Marcus Spears (both 30) and Dumervil (29) aren't young building blocks the Ravens hope will grow into useful pieces. They're fully-formed veterans, expected to step in and immediately deliver.

McKinnie is even more of an addition expected to pay immediate dividends rather than blossom down the line.

The Ravens hope he comes to training camp in better shape than last year, always an iffy proposition, but they've reportedly built incentives into his two-year deal to help make that happen. It's a gamble worth taking, a no-brainer from a risk-reward standpoint. Quite simply, they need the big guy.

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