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Ravens have to decide whether moving Alex Lewis to tackle is best thing to do

One more veteran offensive lineman became available to the Ravens Monday when the Los Angeles Chargers released Orlando Franklin,  whom they signed to a five-year, $36.5 million deal two years ago. Franklin played left guard the past three seasons after spending the first three years of his career at right tackle.

At this stage of his career, the 29-year-old is probably best suited to stay inside at guard, which leads to the obvious question as it pertains to the Ravens: Is Franklin a good fit for a team that has questions at two or three spots along the offensive line?

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Before answering that, it's probably best to start off with a little offseason review.

The Ravens prioritized getting bigger, stronger and better along the offensive line and you probably know the rest. Starting right tackle Rick Wagner signed a big free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions. Part-time starting guard Vladimir Ducasse signed with the Buffalo Bills. Starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to the San Francisco 49ers.

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The Ravens didn't add any offensive linemen in free agency – at least not yet – though they did select two in the draft: fourth-round guard-center Nico Siragusa and fifth-round tackle Jermaine Eluemunor. It's still too early to know whether either Siragusa or Eluemunor are advanced enough to be day-one starters, but that would certainly be asking a lot of a midround rookie.

After the draft, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that the team has some decisions to make along the offensive line and reiterated that the best five players would be on the field. Barring injuries, three of the five starters, but only two of the five positions, are set. While Ronnie Stanley is entrenched at left tackle and Marshal Yanda is locked in at right guard, Alex Lewis' starting position in 2017 and perhaps beyond is unclear.

Where the Ravens decide to put Lewis, the 2016 fourth-round pick, should factor into whether the team makes a run at Franklin or any of the other available guards. Harbaugh has said Lewis could start at left guard or right tackle, and he didn't even rule out the second-year pro moving to center, where the Ravens figure to have a competition in training camp between John Urschel, Ryan Jensen and maybe Siragusa. That could change if the Ravens sign veteran Nick Mangold, who would move to the top of the depth chart at center.

Harbaugh has made it clear that the Ravens believe that Lewis' best position, both now and in the future, is left guard and in a perfect world, they'd prefer keeping him there. They think he'll develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. Lewis got limited repetitions at right tackle during practices last season. He also replaced injured left tackle Stanley in a few games. He didn't look as comfortable or as physical at tackle as he did at guard but that's understandable. If he played right tackle through summer minicamps and then training camp, maybe that changes.

But why take that risk? Why not allow Stanley and Lewis to grow up together on the left side of the line, which could be in good hands for years to come?

It would seem pretty simple to go out and sign a guy like Franklin, if you do indeed believe he's the best guard available, and then move Lewis to right tackle. Then, you either sign Mangold or pencil in either Urschel or Jensen at center, and your starting offensive line is all but set.

In doing that, though, you run the risk of hurting yourself at two positions: Lewis might not be as good as Wagner at right tackle, and Siragusa or Franklin, or whoever else you add, might not be as good as Lewis would be at left guard. You also run the risk of potentially hurting Lewis' development at one position by moving him back and forth between tackle and guard.

Make no mistake, the Ravens are in a tough spot. While many Ravens fans panic over the failure to add any wide receivers this offseason, the uncertainty along the offensive line has to be an even greater concern. Regardless of how many "playmakers" the Ravens have, quarterback Joe Flacco needs to be protected and the team has to run the ball more often and more effectively for the offense to work. That's where an improved offensive line comes in.

But that shouldn't necessarily translate to Lewis moving to right tackle to accommodate Siragusa's insertion at left guard or the addition of veteran free agent. Natural tackles Ryan Clady, albeit on the left side, and King Dunlap are both still available on the open market, and signing one of them would allow the Ravens to keep Lewis at left guard and prevent them from either relying on James Hurst as a starter or pushing Eluemunor, De'Ondre Wesley or Stephane Nembot into a role they might not be ready to fill.

Maybe the Ravens believe Franklin could also still be an effective right tackle. However, I don't see how signing him with the intention of playing him at guard and moving Lewis to right tackle would make the organization feel all that better about the status of its offensive line.

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