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Eisenberg: Ravens Taking Risk At Left Tackle One Way Or Another


When this offseason began, the Ravens didn't necessarily know they would address the tight end, wide receiver and safety positions in free agency and leave offensive tackle alone, at least into early April.

As always, when the front office met in January to devise a plan, it formulated several possible scenarios and then waited to see what unfolded, which players became available, what their price tags were, whether they fit into the Ravens' salary cap plan, etc. There were many permutations.

"The basic structure of improving our football team has come together in one of the ways that we visualized," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said last month. "There were several options."

The Ravens are rightfully excited about the option that came to fruition -- they're a better team now than they were at the end of the 2015 season, especially with safety Eric Weddle stationed at the back of their defense -- but the fact that it hasn't included a move at offensive tackle leaves that as one of the team's uncertainties.

Who is going to protect Joe Flacco's blind side in 2016?

No matter how that question eventually gets answered, the Ravens are going to be taking something of a risk.

Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti appeared to quash all speculation when he said last week that the incumbent option, Eugene Monroe, "is our left tackle going into next season." That's nothing if not a definitive statement from an unimpeachable source.

Yet the front office clearly has at least considered alternatives throughout this offseason. It threw big money at Kelechi Osemele before losing him to a bigger offer from the Oakland Raiders. Harbaugh recently mentioned the possibility of holding a competition. More than a few mock-drafters have predicted the Ravens will take a tackle with their first-round pick.

If the case is closed, as Bisciotti suggested, so be it. But since the 2016 season doesn't begin for another five months, well, who knows what might happen?

There are three potential solutions as I see it, and the easiest, obviously, is just to stick with Monroe, who is under contract and has played pretty well when healthy since signing a $37.5 million deal before the 2014 season. But there's a caveat. Injuries have caused Monroe, 28, to miss 15 games over the past two seasons. He only started and finished a handful of games in 2015.

While that's attributable to bad luck as much as anything, Monroe's inability to stay on the field has created this issue, and if the Ravens do stick with him, they'll just have to cross their fingers and hope he's more durable. The risk element is clear.

The risk is also clear if they end up drafting a tackle such as Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley and then give him the job of protecting Flacco's blind side. Yes, Stanley is viewed by many analysts as a plug-and-play talent, but you never know whether any rookie really is ready to start. In many cases, it's asking a lot.

The final potential solution is grabbing a veteran tackle who becomes available, either as a salary cap casualty or in a trade. The Ravens are "monitoring" the situation, according to The Baltimore Sun, which listed the Denver Broncos' Ryan Clady and the New York Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson as potential targets.

Those are name players, but the risk in any such case is inherent. I mean, why are the players' teams willing to let them go?

Monroe's contract could be a mitigating factor, as the Ravens would incur a sizable "dead money" charge against their salary cap if they parted ways with him. They could soften the blow by making the move after June 1, which would spread the charge over two years, but I'm sure they'd rather avoid generating any dead money after being so hamstrung by it in 2015.

In the end, the left tackle position is important enough that the Ravens surely are going to go with the solution they feel gives them the best chance of winning, regardless of the cap consequences. My money is on Monroe, who is only 28. It's a roll of the dice, but hey, which option isn't?

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