The NFL offseason heats up on Tuesday when the free agency period begins and the NFL draft will take place next month. In anticipation of those events, blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will look at six key positions the Ravens might address in free agency and the NFL draft in the days leading up to the start of free agency.
The revamped offensive line was one of the biggest reasons the Ravens regrouped in the playoffs and rallied to win their second Super Bowl title. With the starting five often providing him a clean pocket, Joe Flacco threw 11 touchdown passes in the playoffs. But for the third straight offseason, the offensive line is a question mark.
Bryant McKinnie, whose insertion at left tackle before the playoffs helped the offensive line click, is 33 and set to become an unrestricted free agent. Michael Oher, who moved from left tackle to right tackle, has one year left on his rookie contract, and it’s unclear whether the Ravens have officially given up on him as their left tackle. And Matt Birk has retired, leaving second-year center Gino Gradkowski as his likely replacement.
With only the right guard position currently set in stone (with Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda), it will be another interesting and critical offseason for the front office when it comes to building an offensive line.
Where they stand: I already detailed how the line is in limbo, but general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month that he likes the young linemen currently on the roster. That presumably includes 2012 second-round pick Kelechi Osemele, Gradkowski, and Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood, two right tackles by trade who played some at left guard last season. Jack Cornell and Antoine McClain also spent the year on the practice squad.
Who’s out there: A stocked market of top-flight left tackles became bearer after Denver’s Ryan Clady and Kansas City’s Branden Albert were slapped with the franchise tag, but Miami’s Jake Long and New Orleans’ Jermon Bushrod are set to become free agents. Unless the Ravens do something to create cap room, though, those guys carry price tags that are too pricy. The draft is said to have a lot of quality offensive linemen, including potential top-ten left tackles in Texas A&M;’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. Those guys will be gone by pick No. 32, but the Ravens could feel that someone such as Florida State's Menelik Watson, North Carolina's Brennan Williams, Oregon's Kyle Long, or Arkansas Pine-Bluff's Terron Armstead has potential as a future left tackle in the NFL.
Stat that stands out: four -- sacks allowed by the Baltimore offensive line in the playoffs. According to Pro Football Focus, Flacco was pressured just 32 times in four games after McKinnie joined the starting lineup.
What they might do: The Ravens are expected to monitor the market for McKinnie, who could return if the price is right. They could also draft another offensive tackle in April. But ultimately, the Ravens must decide if Oher is going to be their left tackle going forward. They publically say they are confident in his abilities, but the fact that he has twice been removed from the left tackle spot in the past three years suggests otherwise. Oher remains a reliable option there, but the Ravens could look to improve at that key position this offseason.
Check back at the Blitz blog on Monday for a look at how the Ravens might address the safety position.