By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
9:56 PM EDT, October 2, 2013
It should have been fairly obvious on Monday when Ravens coach John Harbaugh called the offensive line "disappointing," described the pass-blocking against the Buffalo Bills as "unacceptable" and talked about "working through" first-year starting center Gino Gradkowski's growing pains.
The point was hammered home Tuesday night with the pending trade for Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe for a fourth and fifth-round draft pick, according to sources. The deal should be finalized Thursday when the 26-year-old passes a physical and final contractual and compensatory details are worked out.
So desperate to upgrade their struggling offensive line, the Ravens were willing to make an unconventional deal by their standards. The Ravens don't like trading draft picks, though in this case, what they gave up should be sufficiently replaced when compensatory picks are awarded in March. They also don't traditionally acquire players in the final years of their deal, which is the case with Monroe.
While in-season trades are relatively rare in the NFL, they are unprecedented in Baltimore. When the deal becomes official, it will make the first time in franchise history that the Ravens have made a trade during the season.
"Obviously, we're bringing Eugene in to play," Harbaugh said. "How soon that can happen remains to be seen. The main thing is it makes us better. It makes us better almost immediately in terms of adding a football player of that quality to our team. We'll get it together the way we can and use these guys all the best ways we can."
Monroe, the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Virginia, has started 62 of 65 games for the Jaguars. He's never made a Pro Bowl team, but he has been considered one of the better left tackles in the AFC, and an upgrade over Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens current starting left tackle.
"He's young, healthy, has been relatively durable and has good character, a lot of the things that Bryant McKinnie isn't now," said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, the former director of pro personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles. "Bryant is old [and] you can't trust him. He doesn't have good feet anymore. For a guy 345 pounds, he can't run block worth [anything]. They know Bryant is not the answer. This move makes sense. You look at Eugene and he's been their best offensive lineman in Jacksonville. This should make Joe Flacco more comfortable."
The Ravens are hoping that the deal will be finalized in time for Monroe to practice Thursday but it's unclear if he'll pick up things quickly enough to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. What is clear is that Ravens' officials grew tired of watching the offensive line struggle to protect Flacco and open up holes for a ground attack that ranks just 28th in the NFL.
McKinnie and Gradkowski aren't the only two offensive linemen who have had issues but they've graded out the lowest.
"We need to play better there, and a lot of different places, and that goes with coaching, too," Harbaugh said. "We need to coach better, and it starts with me, it starts with all of us, together. And that's the way we do it. We're of one accord to become the best team we can be Sunday and going forward."
McKinnie didn't come in the locker room Wednesday while reporters were allowed in. Several of the starting offensive linemen had muted reactions to the move. Right guard Marshal Yanda was surprised to learn of the deal, but he was behind any move that general manager Ozzie Newsome feels makes the team better.
Right tackle Michael Oher, who developed a friendship with Monroe during the buildup to the 2009 draft, says that Monroe's addition gives the Ravens "another option."
"He's strong, athletic, can move," Oher said. "He's a very hard worker. Like I said, he's a good player."
Still, the acquisition of Monroe spurs other questions, starting with whether the Ravens will try to reach a contract extension with the tackle, who is playing out his rookie deal. They have done this in the past when acquiring a veteran via trade, like Anquan Boldin before the 2010 season. Oher is also a free agent after the season so it stands to reason that the Ravens would want to secure at least one of their two tackles long term.
"[Monroe] has one year left," said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that the conversations between the Jaguars and Ravens about Monroe have been going for a little while. "We'll see how it shakes out over the course of the next 12 weeks."
There is also the matter of what the Ravens will do with McKinnie, who is signed through the 2014 season. According to sources, the Ravens are exploring trading the 34-year-old but it's unclear if there will be a market for him. McKinnie has not distinguished himself with his play this year and his conditioning remains an issue.
He reported to training camp over his prescribed target weight of 346 pounds and he's yet to earn any of his $100,000 weight bonuses, which would pay him $6,250 for every game in which he hits his target weight.
Beyond the McKinnie decision, a league source said not to rule out the possibility that the Ravens could trade for other players to upgrade a team that is still trying to find its identity.
"It's not a sign of desperation," defensive end Chris Canty said when asked about the Monroe deal. "It's a sign that this football team wants to win and we want to win now. We're not going to accept anything less than championship performance. Hopefully he comes in here and helps us be in a better position to win football games."
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