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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Ravens catch break in keeping Monroe

By Jamison Hensley

The Baltimore Ravens caught their first big break Tuesday in what has been a rough offseason when they re-signed left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Monroe
Monroe reportedly agreed to a five-year, $37.5 million deal ($19 million guaranteed including $11 million signing bonus), according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This is a relative bargain for one of the top available left tackles in free agency.

His $7.5 million average per year was tied for the third-best among left tackles signed Tuesday and is currently ranked 15th among all NFL offensive tackles. This shows that the Ravens sized up the market right because it was decidedly less than what they would've paid if they used the $11 million franchise tag.

"I don't think there's any question that people feel like Eugene Monroe is a long-term answer at left tackle," coach John Harbaugh said after the season.

A week ago, the Ravens and Monroe were reportedly far apart in talks. Many already had him in a uniform for the Miami Dolphins or Arizona Cardinals.

But something unexpected happened. The free-agent market for offensive tackles moved quickly, eliminating all of the likely destinations for Monroe.

As soon as teams were able to sign free agents at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Branden Albert went to the Miami Dolphins (five years, $46 million), Rodger Saffold struck a deal with the Oakland Raiders (five years, $42.5 million) and Jared Veldheer agreed to terms with the Arizona Cardinals (five years, $37.5 million).

It couldn't have worked out better for the Ravens. Monroe was left with little leverage.

While Monroe is an important piece, this is not the final one for the worst offensive line in team history. The only players guaranteed starting spots are Monroe at left tackle and Marshal Yanda at right guard. The Ravens want to upgrade at center over Gino Gradkowski and need to find another guard or center. Kelechi Osemele, who is coming off season-ending back surgery, is penciled in at left guard but he could move to right tackle if that's best for the team.

The Ravens are breathing a sigh of relief that they were able to keep Monroe. If you're paying a quarterback $120.6 million, you need someone to protect his blind side. Monroe isn't Jonathan Ogden, but he isn't Bryant McKinnie. That's the key.

Monroe is 26. He was the No. 8 overall pick of the 2009 draft. He has good upside. The Ravens thought enough of him to trade fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars to get him last October. He's athletic and consistent.

To put it in perspective, you have to think of what the Ravens would have done if they didn't sign Monroe. They would've had to re-sign Michael Oher to play left tackle or pick up a second-tier left tackle like Anthony Collins.

In an offseason that has been defined by off-the-field issues, the Ravens found good fortune at the start of free agency. But with about $20 million of salary cap room to start the day, this should only be the start of the moves for the Ravens.