The Ravens took their biggest gamble of free agency when they reached an agreement with talented but troubled offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie on Tuesday.
An eight-year starter for the Minnesota Vikings, McKinnie agreed to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $7.5 million (including $1 million signing bonus).
The deal is contingent on McKinnie passing a physical Wednesday, which is far from a formality. The Vikings released the 6-foot-8 offensive lineman on Aug. 2 after he reportedly showed up to training camp close to 400 pounds.
Whether this move is a shrewd one or a sign of desperation is up for debate. If McKinnie's in shape, the Pro Bowl tackle would solidify the weakest starting position on the Ravens. If McKinnie's weight balloons, the Ravens are essentially stuck with a high-priced Jared Gaither.
McKinnie, 31, who is being listed by the Ravens at 345 pounds, comes with heavy baggage, too. He has been charged three times by police since 2005 and he was kicked out of the Pro Bowl game two years ago for disciplinary reasons.
One of the reasons the Ravens made the move is because so many players vouched for McKinnie.
"Some people look for speed, some people look for youth. But give me heart, wisdom and the will to play and win the game, and I will take that player on my side any day of the week," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who shares a University of Miami connection with McKinnie.
"That is what Bryant has. I have played against him, and I know from experience how tough he is. He has a proven track record as a winner, and he is a Raven. He is one of us, and I know he will make us better."
Where McKinnie will make the Ravens better is unknown. He started 131 games at left tackle for the Vikings, but the Ravens have shown a commitment to Michael Oher on the "Blind Side."
The Ravens could insert McKinnie at right tackle (where they have worked three linemen with the first team during training camp) or start McKinnie at left tackle and move Oher to the right side (where Oher started as a rookie in 2009).
Right tackle has long been a trouble spot for the Ravens, especially in this preseason. The Ravens began with Oniel Cousins at that spot, but they moved him to guard after he struggled mightily in the preseason opener.
The team tried rookie third-round pick Jah Reid at right tackle in the second preseason game, but it signed veteran Mark LeVoir a day later. While LeVoir has run with the first team at right tackle the past two days, another move is expected to take place with McKinnie's arrival.
The addition of McKinnie might be a well-timed signing just 18 days before facing the vaunted pass rush of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season opener.
"Through the years we've been fortunate to obtain players late in training camp or just before the start of the season who help us win," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Bryant falls in this category."
Known for his agility and power, McKinnie was a major force in the Minnesota running game, playing a role in six of the top eight rushing seasons in Vikings history.
McKinnie is a Pro Bowl player, at least technically. He was voted to the all-star event after the 2009 season, but he did not show up for practices and was scratched from the game, eventually having to pay back almost $5,000 in travel expenses to the league.
He has been charged in three different incidents since being the seventh overall pick of the 2002 draft.
In 2005, McKinnie was arrested along with former Vikings guard Marcus Johnson on suspicion of disorderly conduct in a street fight. Also that year, he was involved in the infamous "Love Boat" incident, eventually pleading guilty to a disorderly conduct charge.
In 2008, he was charged with aggravated battery, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after taking part in a brawl outside a Miami nightclub.
"He's been a productive player at one of the hardest positions to play and he has been in sync with Matt Birk when Matt was a Viking," Newsome said. "Plus, he has a relationship with Michael Oher and our Miami players. Ray [Lewis] and Ed [Reed] vouch for him as a person and as a player who can help us. I know these veteran players are happy we're adding Bryant."
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