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When Jared Gaither missed the start of the Ravens' voluntary offseason conditioning program in March and Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh called him out, trade rumors involving the big offensive tackle swirled. But the Ravens themselves never said he was on the block, and nothing happened.
The rumors swirled again a week ago when the Ravens said Michael Oher and Gaither would switch positions, with Oher taking over at left tackle, the more prominent slot, and then Gaither missed the last two days of a mandatory minicamp with a previously undisclosed foot injury. But when Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said he didn't have good offers for any of his players, the rumors abruptly stopped swirling.
How is this meandering situation going to end? I don't think the Ravens have made up their minds. And they shouldn't.
Clearly, they gave Gaither's position to Oher not because of any glaring talent disparity between the two, but because they feel Oher is more dependable and has a better work ethic, qualities that make him more suited to be the team's left-tackle cornerstone. It was the right move and didn't surprise anyone, perhaps not even Gaither. The one certainty in this whole situation is that Oher will make a great left tackle for the next decade, so there's no reason not to put him there.
But Gaither is no slouch. He has been a strong blocker for two years. A handful of teams don't have a left tackle of his caliber, which is why rumors about him swirl. If he stays with the Ravens, he might be the best right tackle in the NFL.
Why would they even consider dealing him? Because he will be an unrestricted free agent in a year and they're hesitant to give big bucks to a guy with a work ethic issue. It makes sense on one level to get something for him now, as opposed to nothing later, especially since Oniel Cousins could step in and start at right tackle, although Cousins, 25, hasn't played at Gaither's level yet.
But while that is a logical rationale for dealing Gaither, there is an equally logical rationale for not dealing him -- the Ravens are a better team with him, a kind-of-important point seeing as they have the potential to make a deep playoff run in 2010. Why not put their best team on the field and just see what develops, both overall and in regards to Gaither?
I don't expect them to deal him anytime soon. First of all, his foot injury chills the whole situation; you don't get top value in return for a guy who is injured. But even if Gaither returns to full health, I expect the Ravens to continue just to drum their fingers while the rumors swirl.
The best time to deal is when the other side is desperate, as Denver was on the first night of the recent draft. The Broncos wanted Tim Tebow so badly they offered three picks for the Ravens' first-round selection. The Ravens ended up adding linebacker Sergio Kindle and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta with those picks -- a superb haul if the recent minicamp is any indication.
My first instinct regarding Gaither is just to keep him and let him play in 2010. Being in his contract year, he should be motivated. And as far as paying him on the other side, the whole business end of pro football is cloudy with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire in March 2011. Who knows what the market for players will look like if and when that dispute gets settled? Gaither might find Baltimore is still the best place for him.
Buffalo and Dallas are rumored to be interested, but if I'm the Ravens, I just sit tight, keep an open mind, and see what happens. No one is desperate now, two months before training camp. Why rush into a deal? If Gaither recovers and fills the right tackle slot – a likely scenario – well, he's a good tackle. And if it so happens another team gets desperate, really desperate, and offers a first-round pick or a starting cornerback, then the Ravens would have to make a decision. But only then would they have to make a decision.
John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.