After a dismal first five days of free agency for the Baltimore Ravens, fans were looking for just one bright spot. That bright spot was supposed to be the signing of Philadelphia Eagles left guard Evan Mathis.
However, Mathis decided to re-sign with the Eagles, agreeing to a five-year deal with the team on Saturday. And now the dismal free agency continues for Baltimore.
The Ravens have already lost three starters in Ben Grubbs, Cory Redding and Jarrett Johnson, as well as backup safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. In order to get back on track, signing Mathis was the top priority for the Ravens.
After spending over 24 hours in Baltimore meeting with the Ravens front office, Mathis was offered a contract. Despite being greatly intrigued by Baltimore, Mathis decided to stay home in Philadelphia.
Ravens fans can't blame a player for staying with the same team, but it leaves one big question floating around in Baltimore: what now?
Left guard is priority No. 1 for the Ravens—every other position is an afterthought. With Grubbs, Mathis, Carl Nicks and Steve Hutchinson off the market, the Ravens are out of top-tier options. The team went all-in on Mathis, the plan backfired, and now there are few solid options on the market.
Right now, at best, the Ravens can sign a middle-of-the-line left guard in free agency. One intriguing option is former Baltimore Raven Jason Brown. After spending four seasons with the Ravens, Brown signed a lucrative five-year deal with the St. Louis Rams in 2009.
During Brown's tenure in St. Louis, he was the team's primary center. But after an unimpressive first half to the 2011 season, Brown lost his starting center job and was moved to guard.
If Brown is willing to return to Baltimore, it could end up being a pretty solid signing for the Ravens. Brown would immediately become the team's starting left guard, but is versatile enough to switch back to center if Matt Birk retires after the 2012 season.
If Brown or any other free-agent guard does not interest the Ravens, the team could look to fill the spot in April's NFL draft.
One name that has consistently been linked to the Ravens is Wisconsin C/OG Peter Konz. The logic behind drafting Konz would be much like the situation with the previously mentioned Jason Brown. Konz could start at left guard for the team in 2012, and then move to center if/when Matt Birk retires.
Konz is a likely first-round pick, which may be too high for the Ravens based on Konz's injury history. Another option in a later round (likely the second round) is Konz's former teammate Kevin Zeitler.
Zeitler is a true guard as opposed to Konz (one of those "tweener" prospects). If the Ravens are looking to simply fill the void at LG and not worry about the center position, Zeitler is the answer.
As cliche as it sounds, a team can't go wrong with a Wisconsin offensive lineman. Just by looking at the past history of Badgers offensive linemen in the NFL, both Konz and Zeitler are destined to be successful in the NFL.
Regardless of which route the Ravens take in finding a replacement for Ben Grubbs, that player will be under immense pressure. After failing to land Grubbs or Mathis, the left guard position will be one of the focal points for the Ravens offense in 2012.
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