The Ravens' stated offseason priority of bolstering their offensive line just got a little more difficult.
Ben Grubbs, one of the group's top performers, signed a long-term deal with the New Orleans Saints, the team announced.
The deal is for five years, $36 million and includes a $10 million signing bonus and $16 million guaranteed. ESPN first reported the terms.
"I'm confident in my skills and I feel like I still haven't maxed out yet," Grubbs told The New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Now is the time to show the second half of my career is going to be better than the first."
Grubbs is the third Ravens free agent in the last 24 hours to head elsewhere, following the lead of defensive end Cory Redding (Indianapolis Colts) and linebacker Jarret Johnson (San Diego Chargers). Safety Haruki Nakamura is currently meeting with Carolina Panthers officials.
It appears that the Ravens' first choice to replace Grubbs is Evan Mathis, the former Philadelphia Eagles left guard who is currently meeting with team officials in Owings Mills. Mathis was ranked by most evaluators as the third best free agent guard available, behind former New Orleans Saints Pro Bowler Carl Nicks and Grubbs.
Grubbs, the Ravens' first-round selection in the 2007 draft, had been a mainstay on the offensive line for the past five seasons. He started 65 consecutive games before he missed six contests this past season with a toe injury.
He returned and helped pave the way for running back Ray Rice to have his best season as a pro, earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his career.
The Ravens wanted to keep Grubbs, making it one of their offseason priorities. They made him a substantial offer last month, which according to sources, was similar to the five-year, $32.5 million pact that the Ravens gave right guard Marshal Yanda last July.
However, Grubbs wanted more than that and was seemingly intent on shopping his services on the open market. His status undoubtedly was given a boost when Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal, which reportedly included $31 million guaranteed, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday.
"My mom and brother in Alabama, they're just ecstatic about this," Grubbs, who attended high school in Alabama and played college football at Auburn, told The Times-Picayune. "We played in the Sugar Bowl here in 2004 and that was the first time my mother ever came to New Orleans and ever since she's just raved about the food and the music. I've got a feeling New Orleans is going to be seeing a lot of her now."
Grubbs' departure further weakens an offense line that had already been one of the Ravens' biggest question marks. While Yanda and Michael Oher are entrenched on the right side, the Ravens don't have an experienced center on their roster. They are negotiating a potential return for veteran Matt Birk.
Left guard Bryant McKinnie is under contract for one more season, but he struggles as a run blocker and isn't the Ravens' long-term answer at the position. He also is due a $500,000 roster bonus on Saturday.
Now, they will need to find a left guard unless they decide that Jah Reid, a third-round draft pick last season and primarily considered a tackle, is ready to fill that position.
It seems more likely that they would go the free agent route to find a solution and Mathis would certainly be a worthy replacement for Grubbs. However, other free agent options include Mike Brisiel (Houston), Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati), Vernon Carey (Miami) and Jake Scott (Tennessee).
NOTES: Multiple reports have Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain taking a free agent visit Friday to see the Denver Broncos. The Ravens said that they want him back, but there has been no movement in that direction to this point. If he signs elsewhere, McClain would become the third Ravens defensive starter to go elsewhere in free agency. … Safety Haruki Nakamura spent the day in Carolina meeting with Panthers officials. … The Ravens re-signed outside linebacker Chavis Williams, who was active for five games this past season and made two tackles on special teams after being promoted from the practice squad in November. Williams was an exclusive-rights free agent and the Ravens originally had not tendered him a contract.