Maybe I should have left the tea-leaf reading to somebody else -- or at least waited until later in the week.
After I wrote twice this morning that Bryant McKinnie would likely start for the Ravens at left tackle Monday night, McKinnie tweeted this afternoon that he was gone. He later confirmed to my colleague, Aaron Wilson, that the Ravens had released him, only to change his tune about 20 minutes later, saying it wasn't over yet.
I happened to be in my car during that span, and talk radio was already buzzing about the potential release of McKinnie, who is in a contract dispute with the Ravens. The team wants him to take a pay cut from his $3.2 million base salary this season, which is in the bottom half of the salaries in the NFL for starting left tackles.
All of this came as a surprise this afternoon, though the Ravens have not yet said if McKinnie is still on the team or if he will be released. Most observers -- no, not just me -- figured that McKinnie's spot on the team was safe. After all, the Ravens had paid him a $500,000 roster bonus in the offseason, put up with that whole back injury saga at the start of training camp and kept McKinnie on the 53-man roster after Friday's final cuts.
It would certainly be a risk if the Ravens cut him six days before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener, but it would be nowhere near as big of a risk as it was bringing him in the first place. McKinnie's weight issues were well-documented when he played for the Minnesota Vikings, and his off-the-field issues include millions of dollars worth of debt, a weakness for strip clubs, and his role in the "Love Boat" scandal.
Still, he brought something surprising to the stadium every Sunday: reliability. In 2011, McKinnie played more offensive snaps than any Ravens player, including quarterback Joe Flacco. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 1,247 snaps, three more than Flacco and 11 more than right tackle Michael Oher, who would likely be his replacement at left tackle if the Bryant McKinnie era in Baltimore does ends sometime later today.
McKinnie was decent last season. He allowed seven sacks, nine quarterback hits and 29 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus, who graded him as pretty much a wash (I say this with all due respect, but take their grades for what you will).
Michael Oher can probably do a passable job at left tackle, but as a result, releasing McKinnie would weaken the right tackle position and cut into the team's depth. With Kelechi Osemele getting a starting spot, who would the backup be at left tackle? The unproven Ramon Harewood? The presently-gimpy Jah Reid? Some lineman off the street who was planning on spending the first week of "Monday Night Football" on his sofa?
We'll see if the Ravens and McKinnie can find common ground, and coach John Harbaugh may have some answers for us at his 4 p.m. press conference. But if McKinnie is indeed a goner, this offensive line will be in even more flux. Heads up, Joe Flacco.