The Ravens are entering another offseason with a sizable question mark at the left tackle position.
That has often been the case since the days of Jonathan Ogden, whether it was Jared Gaither's mysterious injuries, Michael Oher's inconsistency, or Bryant McKinnie's unreliability eliciting that feeling of uncertainty.
This time around, McKinnie is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and Oher, who will be one next offseason, is probably better off at right tackle, the position he manned during their run to the Super Bowl. But none of the other young linemen on the roster seem to project as a better option there than Oher.
If the Ravens are looking to upgrade, there is good and bad news.
The good news is that there will be a lot of options for teams looking for a new left tackle. As I pointed out in the "redraft" of the 2008 NFL draft I did earlier in the week, that draft had a great class of left tackles, some of which are expected to hit the market next month. The Denver Broncos are expected to use the franchise tag to retain Ryan Clady for 2013, but Kansas City's Branden Albert (a Glen Burnie grad), Miami's Jake Long and Atlanta's Sam Baker could be available. New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, a former Towson standout who has gone to consecutive Pro Bowls, will also test the free-agent waters.
The bad news? You probably already know the bad news. The Ravens will be tight against the salary cap, especially if they can't finalize an extension for quarterback Joe Flacco before the start of free agency, and probably won't be players in the left tackle derby. The New York Giants just resigned their free-agent tackle, William Beatty, for $38.75 million over five years. Agents for those other tackles no doubt took notice.
But I am not writing this simply to bum you out and waste your time, so I do have more good news. While this draft lacks star power atop the draft, it is considered to be deep, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. The Ravens won't get a crack at one of the top three left tackle prospects -- Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson -- but there are some prospects who might intrigue the Ravens late in the first round or in the second.
The Ravens met with Florida State's Menelik Watson, and the Ravens could look at North Carolina's Brennan Williams, Oregon's Kyle Long, or Arkansas Pine-Bluff's Terron Armstead in the second day of April's draft.
It seems more likely that the Ravens will go the draft route to address this seemingly annual question mark.
Last year, they unearthed a nice second-round find in left guard Kelechi Osemele, and there might be another lineman they really like in the second or third round. Bringing back McKinnie as a cheap insurance policy makes sense, but I don't know if you can trust him to play like he did in the playoffs for 16-plus games. And there is always Oher, who is a pretty good "worst-case scenario," one at least 10 other teams in the league would gladly settle for.
The Ravens don't necessarily have to make a significant move at left tackle this offseason to be competitive in 2013, but this spring might be a good time to address it for the long haul if they have the assets to pull it off.