Baltimore Ravens: Michael Oher

James Hurst becomes the first rookie to start at left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens since Michael Oher in 2009.

Hurst gets this opportunity after not being among the 24 offensive tackles drafted in 2014. Considered a mid-round prospect during his senior season, he broke his left leg in his final game in college.

"It has been a long journey -- a lot of ups and downs, but mostly ups," Hurst said. "And right now is an opportunity for me. I’m excited about it. I’m going to put in all the work that I can to be responsible for my job on Sunday."

Hurst also becomes the sixth player to start at left tackle since Hall of Fame lineman Jonathan Ogden retired seven years ago. Let's grade the other players who have started at left tackle since Ogden left:

Jared Gaither: He had the size, strength and athleticism to become a Pro Bowl left tackle. All that talent went to waste because Gaither lacked work ethic and toughness. The Ravens couldn't trust him to be ready to play every week, which is the last thing you want out of someone protecting the quarterback's blind side. Gaither still has the second-most starts at left tackle (26) since Ogden retired. Grade: C-minus.

Adam Terry: The second-round disappointment's reputation for being soft only grew after his one start at left tackle in 2008. He suffered a concussion late in the first quarter after playing 14 snaps and allowing one quarterback hit. Terry never started at left tackle again. Grade: F.

Oher: Even though his life story was told in the book and movie "The Blind Side," Oher was a better fit at right tackle. He lacked the length and footwork needed to be a top-notch left tackle. The Ravens were able to win with Oher at left tackle, but he was a liability on the left side. He allowed 12 sacks in 2012, his final season on the blind side. Unlike Gaither and Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens could always count on Oher to be there on Sundays. His 37 starts at left tackle are the most by anyone since Ogden left. Grade: C.

Bryant McKinnie: He turned out to be a more experienced version of Gaither. McKinnie had the measurables you wanted in a left tackle. He just didn't want to put in the work. His weight became the basis for a soap opera in his two offseasons in Baltimore. Still, McKinnie's strong play in the 2012 playoffs played a big part in the Ravens winning a Super Bowl that season. So, McKinnie gets an 'A' for those four postseason games in 2012. He gets a 'D' for the rest of his time with the Ravens. Grade: C.

Eugene Monroe: He's not going to live up to the expectations of being the No. 8 overall pick in the 2009 draft, and he's not going to go to a Pro Bowl. But Monroe is clearly the best left tackle the Ravens have had since Ogden. He's athletic, smart and a hard worker. Monroe tried to play with a knee injury last Sunday but he wasn't effective. He had minor knee surgery on Wednesday, which is expected to sideline him for three to four weeks. Grade: B.
Let's take a look at how some players from the 2013 Baltimore Ravens team are faring with their new teams ...


New team: Indianapolis Colts. Position: Defensive tackle.

Contract: Five years, $33 million ($16 million guaranteed)

Comment: Jones is being lauded as a big reason why the Colts' first-team defense has held teams to 46 rushing yards on 16 carries (10 of which came on a quarterback scramble). He is starting up front alongside nose tackle Josh Chapman and defensive end Cory Redding.


New team: Tennessee Titans. Position: Offensive tackle.

Contract: Four years, $20 million ($9.35 million guaranteed)

Comment: Oher has been "very solid" at starting right tackle, according to Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky. Even though the Titans drafted Taylor Lewan in the first round, Oher has played so well that a battle for the starting job never emerged.


New team: Buffalo Bills. Position: Defensive back.

Contract: Four years, $16 million ($6 million guaranteed).

Comment: The Bills have so much depth at cornerback that Graham worked at safety with the first-team defense on Monday. Graham was the starting cornerback for the Ravens in the Super Bowl, and he is sorely missed in Baltimore with all the injuries at corner. "The Bills said in the spring that Graham could see time at safety and it may finally be coming to fruition," wrote Bills reporter Mike Rodak.


New team: Detroit Lions. Position: Safety.

Contract: Two years, $3.15 million ($750,000 guaranteed).

Comment: Ihedigbo is starting at safety alongside Glover Quin. "Ihedigbo has been one of the harder hitters during camp and that is part of why the Lions brought him in to replace Louis Delmas in the offseason," wrote Lions reporter Michael Rothstein.


New team: New York Giants. Position: Middle linebacker.

Contract: Two years, $4.5 million ($600,000 signing bonus)

Comment: McClain has been handling the starting middle linebacker job while Jon Beason works his way back from a foot injury suffered in the spring. "Once Beason returns, the most likely result is that McClain moves back to the strong side, but it's not out of the question to think [rookie Devon] Kennard could hold him off," wrote Giants reporter Dan Graziano.


New team: Carolina Panthers. Position: Tight end.

Contract: One year, $795,000 ($65,000 signing bonus)

Comment: Dickson hasn't done much this preseason, catching one pass for six yards. He is in the Panthers' offensive plans this season. "Putting him opposite Greg Olsen, the team's leading receiver in 2013, in a two-tight end set has opened possibilities that offensive coordinator Mike Shula didn't have last season," wrote Panthers reporter David Newton.
All week, the Baltimore Ravens blog will take a look at what the team can learn from each of its previous five drafts:

A great story doesn't always lead to a great player.

In 2009, the Ravens wanted to so make sure they got offensive tackle Michael Oher that they traded a fifth-round pick to move up three spots in the first round. It was a high-profile pick because Oher's life served as the inspiration for "The Blind Side." But it wasn't one of the Ravens' better moves in the first round, because Oher never lived up to expectations.

In hindsight, the Ravens didn't need to trade up to get a quality blocker. There were three tackles taken in the second round who turned out to be just as good, if not better, than Oher, who was the 23rd player drafted overall.

Minnesota's Phil Loadholt, who was selected No. 54, has been the foundation of the Vikings' offensive line at right tackle. New England's Sebastian Vollmer, who was chosen 58th overall, is not as durable as Oher but he's more effective at right tackle when healthy. And the New York Giants' Will Beatty, who was picked at No. 60, has been a starting left tackle for the past three seasons.

This isn't to suggest Oher was a bust. When the Ravens drafted him, draft analysts expressed a concern over Oher's ability to assimilate to an NFL offense. Pro Football Weekly questioned his intelligence, saying he "will require extra attention to absorb a playbook." Oher's college coach said they "tried to keep it simple for him."

Oher proved to be a fast learner for the Ravens, starting immediately as a rookie. He never missed a start in his five-year career with the team and approached the game in a workmanlike manner. Mental mistakes, however, like such as false starts, were a problem every season with him.

The biggest knock on Oher was he never significantly improved throughout his career. There were high projections placed on him, and probably unrealistic ones, considering that he was the first offensive tackle taken by the Ravens in 13 years (Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden was drafted in 1996).

In the end, the Ravens didn't re-sign Oher because he never developed into an above-average starter on "The Blind Side." Last season, the Ravens needed a left tackle so bad that they traded fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Eugene Monroe. Coincidentally, Monroe was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2009 draft, the same one that later produced Oher.

This offseason, the Ravens made Monroe a bigger priority than Oher and signed him to a five-year, $37.5 million contract. Oher got his payday as well, but it came from the Tennessee Titans. Many believe the Titans overpaid Oher, giving him a deal that averaged $5 million per season ($20 million over four years).

So, the Ravens did get their left tackle from the 2009 draft. It just wasn't the one they traded up for at the time.

Here's how the Ravens' 2009 draft graded out five years later:
  • Michael Oher, OT (first round): B-minus. Oher was a tough five-year starter. He just never came close to reaching a Pro Bowl level.
  • Paul Kruger, LB-DE (second round): C-plus. He was the sack leader on the Ravens' Super Bowl championship team. Still, it's hard to forget that he made no impact his first two seasons.
  • Lardarius Webb, CB (third round): A. The Ravens certainly hit on this third-round pick. Injuries have kept him from becoming one of the top in the league.
  • Jason Phillips, LB (fifth round): D. He played nine games in two seasons for the Ravens.
  • Davon Drew, TE (fifth round): F. He hung around because of potential but never caught a pass.
  • Cedric Peerman, RB (sixth round): C. Peerman has been a productive special teams player for the Bengals for the past four seasons. The Ravens, though, cut him at the end of his first preseason.
Offensive tackle Michael Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans last week, becoming one of a handful of Baltimore Ravens' first-round picks not to remain with the team beyond their rookie deal.

Oher, the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 draft, will be known as a durable yet not dominant offensive tackle during his five seasons with the Ravens.

Let's take a look at where Oher ranks among the Ravens' first-round picks:

1. Ray Lewis, linebacker (1996): He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Few can match Lewis' resume: Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP award.

[+] EnlargeOher
AP Photos/David DrapkinMichael Oher has been a durable, if not outstanding, tackle for the Ravens.
2. Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle (1996): How revered is Ogden? He became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001. Ogden went to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 seasons in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed, safety (2002): He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. Reed led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

4. Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): In 2003, Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for rushing for 2,066 yards, falling just 39 yards short of the NFL's all-time single season rushing record. He carried the Ravens' offense in the 2000 Super Bowl run and still ranks as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

5. Terrell Suggs, linebacker (2003): He became the third Ravens player to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2011 by leading the AFC with 14 sacks and topping the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Suggs has recorded 94.5 career sacks, which is 24.5 more than any other Ravens player.

6. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle (2006): A five-time Pro Bowl player, Ngata was considered the NFL's best interior defensive lineman a few years ago.

7. Chris McAlister, cornerback (1999): The Ravens' first shutdown cornerback, McAlister forced quarterbacks to throw away from him for years before a knee injury and off-the-field issues caught up to him.

8. Joe Flacco, quarterback (2008): He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl with a Joe Montana-like run and has produced more wins than any other quarterback since 2008. But Flacco's pedestrian regular-season numbers have stopped him from becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

9. Todd Heap, tight end (2001): Overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the AFC, Heap remains the Ravens' all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches.

10. Peter Boulware, linebacker (1997): The 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Boulware finished with 70 sacks (second all-time for the Ravens), including a team-record 15 sacks in 2001.

11. Duane Starks, cornerback (1998): He struggled mightily at times, but he had three interceptions in the Ravens' 2000 championship run including a 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

12. Ben Grubbs, guard (2007): He started 70 of 74 games for the Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2012, his last season with the team.

13. Jimmy Smith, cornerback (2011): It's still early to give a true evaluation on Smith. He struggled his first two seasons before becoming the Ravens' top cornerback last season. Smith will likely climb these rankings before his career is over.

14. Michael Oher, offensive tackle (2009): He never missed a start in his five-year career, but he fell short of expectations because of false starts and inconsistent pass protection.

15. Mark Clayton, wide receiver (2005): He never led the team in receiving, and he had nine 100-yard receiving games. His best season was 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns.

16. Kyle Boller, quarterback (2003): A flop as a franchise quarterback, Boller had one 300-yard passing game for the Ravens and seven starts where he threw under 100 yards. His five seasons with the Ravens produced a losing record as a starter (20-22) and just one more touchdown (45) than interceptions (44).

17. Travis Taylor, wide receiver (2000): Yes, Taylor is a bigger bust than Boller. The 10th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Taylor eclipsed 60 catches once and produced a grand total of two 100-yard games. If that doesn't convince you, Taylor didn't score a touchdown in his final 22 games with the Ravens.

Note: Cornerback Jimmy Smith was mistakenly left off an earlier version. Also, safety Matt Elam was left off the rankings because he's only played one season.
When defensive tackle Arthur Jones, offensive tackle Michael Oher and cornerback Corey Graham signed elsewhere in the first week of free agency, the Baltimore Ravens said goodbye to three more starters from their Super Bowl team.

Just 13 months removed from hoisting up the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans, the Ravens have less than half of the starters from the team that beat the San Francisco 49ers for the championship.

There are only three starters on defense (defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw) and six on offense (quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, left guard Kelechi Osemele and right guard Marshal Yanda) who remain on the Ravens' roster.

Despite the dramatic turnovers, the Ravens don't regret parting ways with most of the starters from the Super Bowl team. The Ravens made the mistake of trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin last offseason, but you won't hear much criticism over losing Oher or left tackle Bryant McKinnie. In fact, the biggest loss on offense was center Matt Birk, who retired after winning the Super Bowl. On defense, the Ravens felt the absence of Bernard Pollard's physical presence at safety, although the same wasn't said about the departures of cornerback Cary Williams and nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu.

Many predicted the Ravens would face a major transition period without linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, two future Hall of Fame players. While you can make an argument that the Ravens missed both players' leadership, Lewis and Reed weren't missed on the field. Daryl Smith's strong first season with the Ravens and Reed's declining play made many realize it was time to move on.

Change is part of life in the NFL, and the Ravens had to dismantle their first Super Bowl team two years after winning the championship in the 2002 salary-cap purge. The Ravens' 2014 team will have familiar faces from that championship season -- Flacco, Rice, Ngata and Suggs -- but the makeup of the team has changed. Of the 46 players who dressed for the Super Bowl, only 22 are still with the Ravens.

Last season, the Ravens insisted they weren't defending their Super Bowl title because it was a different team. A year later, the Ravens are a shadow of that Super Bowl team.
Alex MackAP Photo/David RichardCleveland Browns center Alex Mack is the top free agent in the AFC North.

It's not a particularly strong free-agent class in the AFC North, although the top ones rank among the best in the NFL.

The free-agent group in the division took a hit when tight end Dennis Pitta, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson all signed before the official start of free agency.

So who's left? ESPN's four team reporters in the division -- Scott Brown, Coley Harvey, Jamison Hensley and Pat McManamon -- compiled a list of the top 15 free agents in the AFC North.

The Baltimore Ravens have the most free agents on this list with eight players. The Cleveland Browns have two of the top three free agents in the division, and the Cincinnati Bengals have two of the top five. The Pittsburgh Steelers placed one free agent in the top 10.

Here are the top 15 free agents in the AFC North:

1. Alex Mack, Browns center: At 28, the two-time Pro Bowler is in the prime of his career. Mack was so coveted by the Browns that they placed a $10 million transition tag on him. It will be interesting whether another team can pry him away from Cleveland.

2. Michael Johnson, Bengals defensive end: He was better in 2012 (11.5 sacks) than he was in 2013 (3.5 sacks). Still, his size, athleticism and age (27) will make him one of the most coveted pass-rushers this offseason.

3. T.J. Ward, Browns safety: Considered one of the top 10 safeties in the NFL, Ward will draw interest from teams looking to get more physical in the secondary. He makes an impact on run defense and has improved in coverage.

4. Eugene Monroe, Ravens offensive tackle: Some believe Monroe is the top offensive tackle in free agency, but ESPN's Bill Polian has five tackles ranked ahead of him. His athleticism and upside will command a big-money contract even though he's never been to a Pro Bowl.

5. Anthony Collins, Bengals offensive tackle: He is an underrated left tackle who didn't allow a sack last season. The question mark with Collins is how he'll play as a full-time starter. He made seven starts last season and has 25 starts in six seasons in Cincinnati.

6. Jacoby Jones, Ravens receiver-returner: He was one of the top playmakers in the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run, and he ranked among the top five returners in the league last season. Jones is inconsistent and one-dimensional as a wide receiver, but he made a lot of clutch plays for the Ravens in two seasons.

7. Art Jones, Ravens defensive end: His impact as a run defender and interior pass-rusher makes him one of the top defensive tackles available. Teams, though, have to wonder whether he'll be the same type of player without Haloti Ngata drawing double-teams next to him.

8. Daryl Smith, Ravens linebacker: He was quietly one of the NFL's top comeback stories. In his first season with the Ravens, Smith led the team with 123 tackles and finished with five sacks, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. His age (32 this month) could be a drawback.

9. Michael Oher, Ravens offensive tackle: His play never reached the expectations placed on a first-round pick. Oher is a throwback type of player whose strengths are durability and toughness. The biggest knocks against him are mental mistakes and pass protection.

10. Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers wide receiver: He is almost 27, brings a lot of quickness and is coming off a season where he dropped just two passes (according to ESPN Stats & Information). What works against Sanders is the fact that he's never had more than 740 yards receiving in a season and averaged a career-low 11 yards per catch last season.

11. Jameel McClain, Ravens inside linebacker: He isn't among the most talented linebackers, but he prides himself on outworking others. Even though he came back from a spinal cord contusion last season, some teams will be wary of a player who had such a serious injury.

12. James Ihedigbo, Ravens safety: Known more for his special-teams play, Ihedigbo finished as the team's second-leading tackler. He'll try to find a team that will give him an opportunity to play defense now that the Ravens moved Matt Elam to his strong safety spot.

13. Ziggy Hood, Steelers defensive lineman: He never became the difference-maker the Steelers envisioned when they drafted him in the first round, but it would be unfair to call him a bust. One of the strongest players on the team, Hood lost his starting job to Cameron Heyward last season.

14. Corey Graham, Ravens cornerback: He was a starter on the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl team and led Baltimore with four interceptions last season. Graham has proved to be a dependable nickelback, but he doesn't have the size or speed to be a full-time starter.

15. Brett Keisel, Steelers defensive lineman: He had four sacks last season and 26 quarterback pressures, third most on the Steelers, despite missing four games and playing sparingly in another because of a nagging foot injury. His age (35) will scare away a lot of teams.
The Baltimore Ravens enter free agency with a lot of salary-cap room and a lot of needs. But there is no question what's the Ravens' biggest priority in free agency, according to a recent SportsNation poll.

Of the 2,126 voters, 58 percent say offensive tackle should be the Ravens' focus in free agency. Both of their starters from last season, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher, are unrestricted free agents.

Wide receiver (19 percent) finished second in the poll, and center (16 percent) ranked third.

Here are selected comments from readers:

Andrew (Charleston, S.C.): Centers are the "QB of the line" and as we saw with Matt Birk. Experience and mental acumen matter. I'd like a proven free agent here (similar to the Birk signing). Alex Mack is unlikely but New Orleans' Brian de la Puente or Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith could probably be acquired at a reasonable price and anchor our line for years to come.

Jon (Lisbon, Md.): I don't think there's any doubt that offensive tackle is the biggest need. But the best free-agent OT is Monroe, and we don't seem to be willing to pay him the money that the Dolphins will offer him. When we didn't tag him, we basically said "good-bye" to him. Also, there's a good chance we can draft an OT that's as good as the lesser free-agent offensive tackles available. So, fill this need via draft.

Mike (Annapolis, Md.): Center has to be the priority. Watching the Ravens on offense, I hardly ever saw Joe Flacco step up into the throw without scrambling around. Gino Gradkowski was pushed back too often. On lateral run plays, penetration was usually made at the central part of the line. how many third- and fourth-and-shorts did the Ravens fail to convert? Gino is all heart; he's just not big enough for the job.

Jim (Taneytown, Md.): With free agency looming, do you think the Ravens should pursue Evan Dietrich-Smith from the Packers? It seems last year, even with a patchwork offensive line, we seemed to have some ability to block but it appeared to me they missed assignments. For comparison, look what happened to the Ravens when they signed Matt Birk and how the line performed (see: playoff wins and a Super Bowl).

Mike (Reisterstown, Md.): The priority is clearly offensive tackle. The Ravens have no one on the roster with more than one year of NFL experience at the position, and that player is Kelechi Osemele, who is currently slated to be their left guard in 2014. They need experience and skill at both tackles.While center is important, I think that if they are starting two new tackles in 2014, keeping Gino Gradkowski at center along with Osemele and Marshal Yanda at guard provides some measure of stability to the line. Hopefully, Matt Birk is right and the experience is all Gradkowski needs to improve his play.

Luke (Washington, DC): Center probably won't be the most popular choice, but I really believe the personnel loss that the Ravens suffered from most acutely last year was that of Matt Birk. I think most people can agree that our offensive woes this year started and ended with the offensive line, and losing an experienced capable center and replacing him with Gradkowski was a significant blow. Recognizing that the new offensive line scheme contributed to the problems and the amount of blown assignments this year in pass protection was just staggering. It seemed we didn't communicate effectively at all along the front line.

Ben (Afton, Va.): Tough decision here, I say offensive tackle is No. 1 over center. We need to protect Flacco in the passing game and maintain our blocks on the outside to help the run game. Although center is important for the run game, the OT helps prevent the box from being closed. You can gain yards if the defense is jumping around the line and instead of fighting through it. Have we forgotten about the off-tackle run? Plus, Flacco throws better being able to go through the full throwing motion. Wide receiver and free safety are important, but I feel signing a roster cut or draft may be the place we find a hidden gem.

Peter (New Orleans): It all starts with the offensive line, and on the line, the left tackle position is both crucial and a weak spot for the Ravens (depending on what happens with Eugene Monroe). Getting a receiver is also important, but there seems to be more depth there in both free agency and the draft. So the Ravens should prioritize the line (and particularly LT), since they may not have as many opportunities there as they do with the other positions.

Free-agency primer: Ravens

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: OT Eugene Monroe, DT Arthur Jones, WR-KR Jacoby Jones, LB Daryl Smith, OT Michael Oher, SS James Ihedigbo, CB Corey Graham, TE Ed Dickson.

Where they stand: The biggest hole on the team is offensive tackle. Monroe and Oher, the Ravens' starting tackles from last season, are both unrestricted free agents. The Ravens want to get bigger on the interior of the offensive line, which indicates they want to upgrade from center Gino Gradkowski. The other need on offense is a wide receiver or tight end who can convert third downs and make yards after the catch. In other words, they are looking for someone to complement wide receiver Torrey Smith beyond tight end Dennis Pitta, who was re-signed this week. On defense, the priorities are at middle linebacker and free safety. The Ravens want to bring back Smith, but they will need to replace him if they can't. With the Ravens moving Matt Elam to strong safety, they need to add an athletic safety whose strength is coverage.

What to expect: With $26 million in salary-cap space, the Ravens need to get a left tackle, center, wide receiver, middle linebacker and free safety in free agency. Baltimore is trying hard to keep Monroe and Smith before free agency begins. If the Ravens fail to retain Monroe, left tackle has to be the focus early in free agency. The contingency plan is to either re-sign Oher (which isn't ideal because he's better at right tackle) or move Kelechi Osemele from left guard to left tackle. The options at center aren't as appealing after Cleveland put the transition tag on Alex Mack. The other free-agent centers are 20-something and middle of the road: Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith, New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and New England's Ryan Wendell. At wide receiver, the top targets should be Denver's Eric Decker, New England's Julian Edelman, Seattle's Golden Tate and New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks, who has been linked to the Ravens since the end of the season. When it comes to free safety, the biggest name is Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. But Miami's Chris Clemons and Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea are solid starters as well.
Let's take a look at the Baltimore Ravens' Twitter mailbag:


Ravens free-agent rankings: No. 6

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
Let's continue the ranking of the Baltimore Ravens' 13 unrestricted free agents:


Position: Offensive tackle

The good: Even though Oher's life story inspired the movie "The Blind Side," one of his strengths was versatility. He played left and right tackle throughout his career, stepping into the spot the Ravens needed him the most. The Ravens have always been able to count on Oher for his toughness and durability, and they consider him a throwback type of player. He has never missed a game in his career and became the first Ravens rookie offensive lineman since Jonathan Ogden in 1996 to start all 16 games.

The bad: Oher hasn't lived up to the expectations of being the 23rd overall pick from four years ago. He never became a top-notch left tackle and has ended up being an average right tackle. Penalties (24 false starts in his career) and pass protection have long been trouble areas for Oher.

The bottom line: Coach John Harbaugh didn't rule out bringing back both Oher and Eugene Monroe, the team's starting tackles who are scheduled to become free agents. But this seems like a long shot. It's more likely that only one will return. If the Ravens can't re-sign Monroe because he's too expensive, the Ravens would bring back Oher to play left tackle, which won't be popular with the team's fan base.
The Baltimore Ravens' team page continues to a take a position-by-position review of the team's 2013 season and give a sneak peek of what lies ahead:


Under contract (2014 salary-cap number): G Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million), G Kelechi Osemele ($912,510), G Jah Reid ($785,810), C Gino Gradkowski ($691,106), G-C A.Q. Shipley ($570,000), OT Rick Wagner ($531,140), C Ryan Jensen ($514,670), C Reggie Stephens (future-reserve contract).

2014 free agents: OT Eugene Monroe, OT Michael Oher.

The good: The Ravens stabilized Joe Flacco's blind side when they traded for Eugene Monroe in October. He's not a Pro Bowl left tackle, but he was a significant upgrade over Bryant McKinnie. Right guard Marshal Yanda remains the most talented lineman for the Ravens, and he finished the second half of the season strong. Yanda earned a Pro Bowl invitation for a third straight season. A.Q. Shipley, who is a center, did an admirable job at left guard after Kelechi Osemele went down with a season-ending back injury.

The bad: This was the weakest group on the team. The line failed to open running lanes and had too many breakdowns in pass protection. The Ravens found out they need to upgrade at center after Gino Gradkowski got pushed back too often in his first full season as a starter. Right tackle Michael Oher struggled in pass protection and whiffed too many times in run blocking. Yanda led the Ravens offensive linemen with seven tackles, including five false starts.

The money: The Ravens only have enough salary-cap space to re-sign one tackle in free agency, and Monroe is considered the first choice. He not only plays the higher-profile position but the Ravens gave up fourth- and fifth-round picks to get him four months ago. If they're unable to sign Monroe, the Ravens will likely look to bring back Oher. In that scenario, the Ravens would put Oher back at left tackle. The Ravens may also look for a center in free agency. With young centers like Gradkowski and Ryan Jensen on the roster, it doesn't make sense to draft another one.

Draft priority: High. The Ravens need to find a starting right tackle, unless they're sold on Rick Wagner (a fifth-round pick from a year ago) can step up next season. A right tackle -- like Michigan's Taylor Lewan or Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio -- could be available in the middle of the first round for Baltimore. The Ravens will look at guards if they're unsure if Osemele can fully recover from back surgery.
The Baltimore Ravens' soon-to-be free agents -- it's 13 by my count -- all cleaned out their lockers on Monday morning, less than 24 hours after their disappointing season came to a close in a 34-17 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals. And the ones who spoke, talked about their desire to return.

But, as everyone knows, roster change is part of the NFL landscape and many won't be back. Let's cut through the pleasantries and examine the future of the seven Ravens starters who are set to hit free agency at 4 p.m. ET on March 11:


What he did in 2013: A special teams player for most of his career, Ihedigbo was one of the bigger surprises on defense, making 101 tackles and providing much-needed leadership. He is a high-effort, hard-hitting player who started a career-high 16 games.

What Ravens should do with Ihedigbo: Under normal circumstances, it would be a no-brainer to bring him back. He exceeded expectations and could be had a relatively good price. But he's a strong safety just like first-round pick Matt Elam, who played out of position as a rookie. Based on how the secondary played, it's in the Ravens' best interest to add a free safety with better ball skills and move Elam to strong safety. Ihedigbo would be an excellent backup plan.


What he did in 2013: A fifth-round pick in 2010, Jones got better each season and established himself as the Ravens' top lineman this year. With Haloti Ngata drawing double teams, Jones made the plays up front with 53 tackles and four sacks.

What Ravens should do with Jones: They won't be able to match the offers from other teams. File this under the same category as Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams. This is another situation where the development of the player will draw too much interest from other teams in free agency. The Ravens would undoubtedly want Jones back, but his play will price him out of what the Ravens can pay him.


What he did in 2013: It took time for Jones to get healthy after teammate Brynden Trawick ran into him in the season opener and injured his knee. Jones showed flashes, although not consistency, as a wide receiver and finished fourth on the team with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest impact came on returns, where he averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in NFL) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the NFL).

What the Ravens should do with Jones: It's tough to say, but the value isn't there to bring him back. The Ravens need to upgrade at the No. 2 wide receiver position, so that would reduce Jones' role on offense. There's no questioning Jones is a playmaker on special teams. It's just difficult to justify his $4 million price tag. If he doesn't command much in free agency and comes back for less, then it makes more sense to re-sign Jones.


What he did in 2013: After being traded from Jacksonville, Monroe was a significant improvement over Bryant McKinnie. He did enough to show he can protect Joe Flacco's blind side for years to come.

What the Ravens should do with Monroe: The team has to make it a priority to keep him. Monroe isn't a Pro Bowl blocker, but he's better than what the Ravens can get and he would fit into the team's price range. And, unlike McKinnie, the Ravens won't have to worry about Monroe's attitude and physical conditioning.


What he did in 2013: It was a tough year that began with an ankle sprain in the season opener. Oher was an average right tackle who once again had problems with penalties and pass protection.

What the Ravens should do with Oher: It's time to part ways. Oher played with passion, but he never reached the expectations of a first-round pick. The Ravens need to invest in a left tackle, and they probably wouldn't have the cap room to keep Oher if they wanted to do so. Oher will get paid this offseason. It's just going to be another team that does it.


What he did in 2013: Pitta wasn't the same play-making target from a year ago. Still, it was a major accomplishment that he was even on the field. A dislocated hip, which was originally thought to be a season-ending injury, sidelined him for 12 games. Pitta finished with 20 catches for 169 yards and one touchdown.

What the Ravens should do with Pitta: The Ravens have to do everything they can to keep Pitta. When completely healthy, he's the Ravens' best weapon on third down and in the red zone. Losing Pitta would be more devastating to Flacco and the passing game than parting ways with Anquan Boldin this year.


What he did in 2013: Signed in June after Rolando McClain retired, Smith was the reason why no one talked about the Ravens missing Ray Lewis this year. He finished with 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

What the Ravens should do with Smith: A short-term deal would make sense for Smith, who will turn 32 in March. A big part of the decision with Smith hinges on whether the Ravens believe rookie second-round pick Arthur Brown can step up into a starting role next season and whether the team wants Jameel McClain at his current price tag ($3.2 million salary in 2014).

The Ravens' other unrestricted free agents are: TE Dallas Clark; DL Terrence Cody; TE Ed Dickson, CB Corey Graham; S Jeromy Miles; RB Bernard Scott.

The Ravens' restricted free agents are: WR Tandon Doss and LB Albert McClellan.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If the Baltimore Ravens fail to make the playoffs, Sunday's regular-season finale at Cincinnati could mark Michael Oher's final game with the team.

Oher, who has played right and left tackle for the Ravens the past five seasons, will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Ravens likely will let Oher go elsewhere and make it a priority to re-sign left tackle Eugene Monroe, especially since the team gave up a fourth- and fifth-round pick to acquire Monroe this season.

[+] EnlargeMichael Oher
David Banks/Getty Images"[The Ravens] are going to put themselves in the best situation to win," Michael Oher said. "If that means getting rid of me, they're going to do what's best for the team."
Asked about his future this week, Oher said his preference is to remain with the Ravens but he seemed resigned to the possibility that he will play for another team in 2014.

"If it happens, that would be great. You don't want to pick up and move," Oher said about re-signing with the Ravens. "But that's the nature of the business. This is a great organization. They're going to put themselves in the best situation to win. If that means getting rid of me, they're going to do what's best for the team. I totally understand that."

A first-round pick by the Ravens in 2009, Oher is known more nationally for being the inspiration for the movie "The Blind Side" than his play on the field.

The Ravens have always been able to count on Oher for his toughness and durability and consider him a throwback type of player. He has never missed a game in his career and became the first Ravens rookie offensive lineman since Jonathan Ogden in 1996 to start all 16 games.

But Oher hasn't lived up the expectations of being the 23rd overall pick from four years ago. He never became a top-notch left tackle and has ended up being an average right tackle. Penalties (24 false starts in his career) and pass protection have long been trouble areas for Oher, who is making $3.7 million this season.

The Ravens once had a strong history of re-signing their first-round picks to long-term deals, but that hasn't been the case recently. Only two of the team's past four first-round picks (defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and quarterback Joe Flacco) were retained when their rookie deals were done.

Baltimore held preliminary talks with Oher about a new deal before the trade for Monroe, but the sides reportedly weren't close to an agreement. The Ravens could draft a right tackle in the draft or see if Ricky Wagner, a rookie fifth-round pick, can handle the starting job.

Does Oher think about whether Sunday will be his final game for the Ravens?

"I'm working like we're going to the playoffs and I'm going be here," Oher said. "It crosses your mind once in a while, but that's just being human."
The Baltimore Ravens continue to have a disappointing turnout in the Pro Bowl voting. Only five players rank in the top 10 in the latest ballot results, which were released by the NFL on Wednesday.

The Pro Bowl players are determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches. The voting for fans ends Dec. 26.

Here are the top five vote-getters for the Ravens:

Kicker: Justin Tucker is the hottest kicker in the league, but you wouldn't be able to tell by the voting. He is No. 6 with 78,869, which is more than 114,000 votes behind first-place Stephen Gostkowski from New England.

Fullback: Vonta Leach remained at No. 3 behind Carolina's Mike Tolbert and Cleveland's Chris Ogbonnaya. Leach has 152,043 votes despite having a significantly reduced role this season.

Offensive tackle: Michael Oher is No. 7 even though he isn't the best offensive tackle on the team (that's Eugene Monroe). Oher remains popular from his "Blind Side" days.

Outside linebacker: Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, the Ravens' top two sack producers, are both in the top 10. Suggs remained No. 3 behind Kansas City's Tamba Hali and Indianapolis' Robert Mathis. Dumervil is No. 7 after not being among the top vote-getters last week.

NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on Dec. 23-26. The Pro Bowl players will be announced on Dec. 27.

Ravens report card vs. Bengals

November, 11, 2013
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 20-17 overtime win against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Quarterback: After Joe Flacco bought time before throwing his first touchdown, it was a shaky performance for most of the way. He would've been picked off four times if the Bengals defenders could catch. His first interception was a case of him doing too much. When you're wrapped up, you need to just take the sack and, to his credit, Flacco didn't make that mistake again this game. His fumble, when he got stripped while trying to throw the ball, showed a lack of pocket awareness. Despite the struggles, Flacco did make the two short passes in overtime to get in range for the winning field goal. Grade: C-minus.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tucker
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsBaltimore's Justin Tucker celebrates his game-winning FG to beat the Bengals 20-17 in overtime.
Running backs: Just like he has all season, Ray Rice struggled to run the ball and break tackles in the open field. He averaged 1.7 yards per carry (30 yards on 18 attempts) and managed 4.3 yards per reception (26 yards on team-high six catches). His longest run was five yards and, as fantasy owners know, he failed to score a touchdown on two red-zone carries. Bernard Pierce ran harder than he's had this season, although the effort only produced 31 yards on eight carries (3.9-yard average). The longest run of 18 yards was from backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who took a pitch after lining up in the slot. Grade: D.

Wide receivers/tight ends: The Ravens did what they should do all season -- get the ball to Torrey Smith. He only totaled 46 yards, but Flacco targeted him 14 times. Smith made a leaping grab for a seven-yard touchdown, which proved he has no fear in going over the middle. The tight ends came up big at critical times. Ed Dickson's eight-yard catch put the Ravens in field-goal range in overtime, and Dallas Clark's only catch was a one-yard touchdown. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones drew a 48-yard pass interference penalty after getting behind the defense on a flea flicker, setting up that Clark score. The other receivers were nonexistent. Grade: C-plus.

Offensive line: It's easy to access the line's play when you see the Ravens' running backs averaged 2.8 yards per carry and Flacco got sacked five times. The line is getting beat physically in run blocking. In pass protection, there are too many lapses in communication. A Bengals defender had a free run at Flacco by coming up the middle after left guard A.Q. Shipley and center Gino Gradkowski failed to pick him up. Right tackle Michael Oher struggled against Carlos Dunlap and allowed too much penetration on that forced fumble of Flacco. Left tackle Eugene Monroe was the team's best lineman for a second straight week. Right guard Marshal Yanda does get style points for hoisting up Torrey Smith after his touchdown. Grade: D.

Defensive line: Haloti Ngata must have been hearing the criticism because he delivered his best game in recent memory. He was a force inside and slammed shifty running back Giovani Bernard to the ground in the first quarter when there was a lot of space on the left side. Even after he injured his left knee, Ngata made an impact and finished with five tackles and one batted down pass. Arthur Jones sacked Andy Dalton in the red zone, which held the Bengals to a field goal on the opening drive in the third quarter. Chris Canty added a quarterback hit. Grade: B.

Linebackers: It's been a hot-and-cold season for Elvis Dumervil, who led the team with 2.5 sacks after disappearing in Cleveland. He made his presence known Sunday with three quarterback hits, two tackles behind the line and one batted down pass. In the fourth quarter, Dumervil had 1.5 sacks. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith did his best in trying to limit Bernard and stopped him short of the first down in the opening drive. Terrell Suggs had a quiet day with no sacks or quarterback hits. Grade: B.

Secondary: This was the secondary's most aggressive effort of the season, and it came against a talented group of Bengals receivers. Cornerback Lardarius Webb ripped the ball away from receiver Marvin Jones for an interception and caused havoc on his repeated blitzes. Jimmy Smith stripped Mohamed Sanu to break up another pass. The star of the defensive backfield was James Ihedigbo, who had his first two career interceptions and helped stop Bernard on fourth down in overtime. What kept this from being an 'A' game was the "bone-head" play by Ihedigbo on the Hail Mary touchdown that sent the game to overtime. Grade: B-plus.

Special teams: Justin Tucker won the game with a 46-yard kick in overtime, but don't forget about him making a 36-yarder into the swirling wind earlier in the game. He's automatic these days. Sam Koch had a more consistent effort with three punts inside the 20-yard line and a 55-yarder that helped change field position. Returners Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones were non-factors. Grade: B-plus.