Is left tackle Bryant McKinnie going to be back with the Baltimore Ravens next season? Probably not. But it does appear that McKinnie's performance during the playoffs has the Ravens interested in trying to retain the veteran offensive lineman and impending free agent.
McKinnie didn't start a single game during the regular season, but his insertion at left tackle for the playoffs - and the subsequent shuffling that went along with it - helped transform the Ravens' offensive line from a unit that had struggled in pass protection during the regular season into a group that quarterback Joe Flacco said earlier this week was "unbelievable" in pass protection during the playoffs.
McKinnie was particularly impressive, especially considering he saw only minimal playing time during the regular season.
Baltimore's expected to have only limited money to spend under the salary cap, but McKinnie said Ravens coach John Harbaugh twice approached him during the postseason expressing his interest in having McKinnie return to Baltimore even after the conclusion of the season.
"It was two different times [Harbaugh] mentioned it," McKinnie told the Carroll County Times in a phone interview Friday. "One was after like the New England game. He was like, 'After we play in the Super Bowl, we need to talk about you for next year.' ... And then when we were out at the Super Bowl, he came up to the table with me for lunch or something and he kind of mentioned again, 'You know, we want to see what's going on with you after the Super Bowl.'"
But it still appears unlikely the talented but oft-troubled 33-year old McKinnie will be back with the Ravens next season.
Baltimore's not expected to have much money to spend under the salary cap and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome hinted Thursday that McKinnie's play during the postseason could earn the left tackle a bigger payday elsewhere than what Baltimore's willing to spend.
McKinnie rendered Dwight Freeney into a non-factor during the Ravens' wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts. He neutralized Elvis Dumervil during Baltimore's divisional round win over the Denver Broncos. He contained Rob Ninkovich aside from an early sack during the Ravens' AFC championship win over the Patriots. And he held Aldon Smith, who had 19 ½ sacks during the regular season, without a sack during Baltimore's Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Said Newsome: "I think the way [McKinnie] played down the stretch against Freeney, against Dumervil, and then against Aldon Smith, I think it makes a statement for him. I think he has a decision to make as to whether he wants to come back and play here."
But it wasn't even six weeks ago that McKinnie didn't appear to be in the Ravens' plans whatsoever.
He lost his starting left tackle job to Michael Oher prior to the start of the regular season, had to accept a pay cut in the week leading up to the season just to remain on the team and then spent most of the regular season on the bench, even with Oher struggling at left tackle.
Not like it was without reason, though.
McKinnie had issues with his weight and conditioning during the offseason and was then a late arrival to training camp after apparently suffering a back injury in a fall at his South Florida home.
There were also his perceived shortcomings as a run blocker, and then later a hip flexor injury that limited his mobility during the middle portion of the regular season.
But a season-ending injury to starting left guard Jah Reid forced Baltimore to shuffle its offensive line for the playoffs - with McKinnie being inserted at left tackle, Oher being moved from left tackle to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele sliding inside from right tackle to left guard.
The result was an offensive line that allowed just six sacks in four playoff games after surrendering 38 sacks in the 16 games prior to McKinnie's insertion and the subsequent moves that went along with it.
Oher excelled at right tackle after struggling at left tackle during the regular season. Osemele thrived at left guard after struggling at times in pass protection while at right tackle during the regular season. And McKinnie shined at left tackle, both in pass protection as well as in the run game.
Osemele said of the 6-foot-8, 354-pound McKinnie in January: "He's a large guy. He's a large guy that can move, and you can't find that that easily in this league. ... On top of that, the experience he has, how strong he is - and he's a mauler, man. He's a strong guy. What really can you do when you go against somebody that big and that powerful?"
And even despite the fact he'll turn 34 in September, McKinnie still feels like has more quality football left in the tank.
"Yeah, especially by not playing as much this season because I don't have really any wear and tear on me," McKinnie said. "I feel pretty much fine now going into the offseason. ...
"This is the best I've felt in awhile. It's the strongest I've felt. I just feel good, period."
But the impending free agent voiced uncertainty regarding his future with the Ravens.
"I'm just going to see what they're talking about," McKinnie said. "I haven't really talked about it with them because we're still kind of celebrating our win from the other day. But when the time comes, I'm sure my agent and them will go through that whole process and see what's going on."