The Ravens remain far apart in contract negotiations with offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, according to sources.
Although both sides are highly motivated to hammer out a deal and some progress has been made, sources say there's a significant gap to be bridged to reach a financial compromise.
Monroe became the Ravens' top negotiating priority after they secured tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 milllion deal that includes $16 million guaranteed and a $21 million payout in the first three years.
This afternoon marks the NFL deadline for teams to use the franchise tag. The Ravens could use the tag to prevent Monroe from becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 11. It's uncertain whether they will designate Monroe as their franchise player, but one source characterized that option as a possibility the team has considered.
It would certainly be an expensive undertaking, with the franchise tender for offensive tackles set at $11.654 million. But under that scenario the Ravens would protect their investment in Monroe after trading fourth- and fifth-round draft picks to the Jacksonville Jaguars in October to acquire him.
The Ravens were roughly $27 million under the NFL salary-cap limit of $133 million prior to the Pitta deal, which is not expected to take up a large amount of salary-cap space in the 2014 fiscal year.
Players generally don't like the franchise tag, despite its high salary, due to the restrictive nature of the tag. Monroe wouldn't get a signing bonus and would be paid next season through 17 game checks. The Ravens have eventually signed every franchise player in team history to a long-term contract, with the exception of former center Wally Williams, who signed with the New Orleans Saints after playing one season under the franchise tag.
The Ravens would be free to negotiate with Monroe until a July 15 deadline to work out a long-term deal, otherwise he'd have to play the entire season under the franchise tag. Two summers ago, the Ravens signed running back Ray Rice to a $35 million contract roughly an hour before the NFL deadline.
Monroe stabilized the left tackle position last season after replacing Bryant McKinnie, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Monroe was the Ravens' highest-graded offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
At 26, Monroe is regarded by NFL personnel as being in the prime of his career.
The 2009 first-round draft pick from Virginia is the top-ranked free agent offensive tackle, according to NFL Network, which ranked him above Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Branden Albert.
Monroe is an athletic 6-foot-5, 306-pounder who has played 98 percent of the snaps in games he's been active over five NFL seasons. He has averaged nearly 1,000 snaps per season and has started 73 of 76 career games.
At the NFL scouting combine, coach John Harbaugh said he was optimistic that a deal could be reached with Monroe as well as Pitta.
The Ravens ultimately got the Pitta deal done. Now, their focus is on locking up Monroe to a long-term deal.