The Ravens drafted Ronnie Stanley with the expectation that he would anchor their offensive line and protect Joe Flacco's blind side for the foreseeable future. When you take a tackle with the No. 6 overall pick, that's what he does.
That scenario constitutes a not-so-subtle statement on the long-term job prospects of the Ravens' incumbent left tackle, Eugene Monroe.
Formerly a high pick himself (No. 8 overall), Monroe can handle the job, and at 29, supposedly is still in his prime. But he has struggled with injuries since joining the Ravens, and well, when a team uses its highest draft pick in a decade on a guy who plays your position, they're telling you something. The clock is ticking.
But it was never going to be easy for the Ravens just to snap their fingers and move on from Monroe. He is among their highest-paid players, having signed a $37.5 million deal in 2014. Cutting him would trigger a major "dead money" charge, which is salary cap-ese for money that goes to guys no longer on your team. The Ravens piled up a ton of it in 2015 and want to have less this year.
The cap's fine print offers the Ravens a way to minimize the problem. If you cut a player after June 1, you get to spread the dead money over two years instead of one. Using that stipulation, the Ravens could save around $3 million in 2016 cap dollars by parting ways with Monroe after June 1.
It sounds like a viable option, but if you didn't notice, June 1 has come and gone and Monroe is still on the roster.
Why? There are several possible explanations.
It could be the Ravens just aren't sure yet that Stanley is ready to start at left tackle. There's little doubt it's his position in the long run, but he's only been through a few noncontact practices, and if it turns out he needs some time to polish his craft, Monroe, who has made 90 career starts, can handle the job.
In that scenario, Stanley could back up Monroe until he's ready, or he could become the starting left guard, replacing Kelechi Osemele, whose departure via free agency created a vacancy. As you may know, Jonathan Ogden started at left guard when he was a rookie before moving to left tackle in his second year.
With Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh having repeatedly pledged to start his "best five" linemen in 2016, it's not inconceivable that Monroe and Stanley could end up next to each other.
Is it likely? I have my doubts. I'm thinking the Ravens drafted Stanley as a tackle and hope he's ready to start in 2016. If anything, that would validate that they made a solid pick.
It's also possible the Ravens already believe Stanley is ready to start at left tackle and they're holding onto Monroe in hopes of being able to trade him. That wouldn't help with the dead-money charges, which you can't trade, but it would mean the Ravens received something for their trouble. I'm thinking a starting-caliber left tackle could fetch at least a fourth-round draft pick.
Several things need to happen before Ravens can trade Monroe. After ending 2015 on injured reserve, he needs to prove he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. That won't happen for months, at least until he's back on the practice field. And of course, another team has to want him.
But the latter could happen if another team loses its left tackle to injury sometime this summer, which is always possible, so holding onto Monroe for now actually makes sense as long as the Ravens aren't in a short-term cap squeeze ... and they aren't. They're more than $7 million under the limit, and outside of needing to sign kicker Justin Tucker to a long-term deal and possibly add a starting inside linebacker, their immediate needs aren't pricey.
If the Ravens really need to clear cap space for a signing, they could make a move with Monroe. But they don't HAVE to do that right now, and that flexibility means they can afford to wait and see how things develop at left tackle.