Losing Ronnie Stanley just days after he signed his mega contract extension midway through the 2020 season was a tough blow. Expecting Stanley to be back after ankle surgery only to have him suit up for just one game in 2021 was perhaps even tougher.
General Manager Eric DeCosta spoke Friday about the understanding that Stanley would be ready to return to his previous form in 2021, only to have him play in one game and opt to have another season-ending surgery on his ankle.
"It's something that I've thought about quite a bit, and it's probably my mistake," DeCosta said Friday at his postseason news conference. "I don't want to use [the word] assuming, but I was expecting Ronnie would come back this year, full strength. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. There's probably a lot of blame to go around.
"Ultimately, I'm the guy who has to talk to the various doctors and trainers and make a decision and determination at that position. My understanding and belief was that Ronnie would come back this year and play really good football for us, and be healthy and be strong and be ready to go. He wasn't. That was a big setback."
Stanley returned to the field in training camp and suited up for the season-opener in Las Vegas. He had a tough game facing Yannick Ngakoue and didn't play another snap. After reportedly getting multiple opinions on the best course of action, Stanley underwent a second surgery in mid-October.
It was a big setback in terms of the caliber of player lost, the amount of salary cap space lost ($10 million), and the lack of depth to fill the hole.
Even though veteran Alejandro Villanueva had an up-and-down season, the Ravens were fortunate that they had signed him last offseason to be their right tackle. Villanueva had spent his entire career as a starting left tackle so he could step in immediately, and he started every game. That left Baltimore needing a right tackle, however. Patrick Mekari stepped up, and others such as Tyre Phillips, filled in when Mekari was too banged up.
The overall shuffle hampered Baltimore's offense both in pass protection (their 57 sacks allowed were the second-most in the league), and in the running game, specifically with the running backs. But Baltimore's offense didn't fall apart either.
"I'm proud of the fact that we could battle through that, losing one of your very, very best players, losing a significant amount of salary cap to an injury like that," DeCosta said.
Now the question is how the Ravens move forward. DeCosta said he's again anticipating Stanley to be back, but Baltimore will also look to add offensive linemen this offseason, and the preference would be to have more tackle depth capable of stepping in just in case.
"I'm optimistic. I truly believe that Ronnie is going to be back this year and play good football, play winning football and become, again, the Ronnie Stanley that was an All-Pro left tackle," DeCosta said. "If he can do that, that will be a huge, huge advantage for us moving forward.
"That being said, one of, probably, the points of emphasis this year is the offensive line, how do we improve and how can we get better."