It has been an up-and-down season for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line, but heading into Week 14, it appears that the group has finally found its stride. The Ravens are currently the sixth seed in the AFC at 6-6 and beginning to gel up front.
However, they will still need to make revamping the offensive line a priority this offseason in order to regain the stability from a season ago.
The Ravens have had high turnover on the offensive line after their Super Bowl-winning season in 2012. Center Gino Gradkowski has replaced the retired Matt Birk, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was traded to the Miami Dolphins after the acquisition of LT Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele was placed on IR with an injured back.
At season's end, the Ravens will have some important decisions to make on the O-line. Both LT Eugene Monroe and RT Michael Oher are free agents and will be looking to cash in on big contracts.
Ozzie Newsome will have less than $20 million in cap space to work with, making signing both tackles nearly impossible.
Monroe has played very well over the past month since coming over from Jacksonville. According to PFF, (subscription required), Monroe graded out at +2.3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13 compared to Michael Oher's -3.2.
All signs are pointing to Oher playing his last season in Baltimore.
If the Ravens are unable to retain Monroe or Oher, they will be forced to turn to the draft. However, finding an elite left tackle in the mid-to-late first round is a challenge. A few names to keep an eye on are OT Antonio “Tiny” Richardson from the University of Tennessee and OT Cyrus Kouandjio from University of Alabama.
The Ravens may be forced to trade up or turn to current rookie tackle Ricky Wagner out of Wisconsin.
Assuming that Oher is no longer a Raven in 2014, Wagner has the ability to come in and play right tackle immediately. In limited action this season, Wagner has played well and looks as though he can be an NFL starter on the right side.
The Ravens will do whatever it takes to re-sign Monroe to protect Flacco’s blind side—even at his presumably steep asking price.
One constant on the Ravens’ offensive line in 2013 has been RG Marshall Yanda. Yanda is widely considered one of the best guards in the NFL and has played like it this season.
On the left side, A.Q. Shipley has fared well, but has been guilty of numerous false-start penalties and QB hurries. The Ravens will be hoping for a full recovery from Osemele to solidify their line in 2014.
Heading into a showdown with the Minnesota Vikings, the Ravens are currently ranked 30th in rushing this season. While fans are quick to blame Ray Rice, the offensive line has provided minimal running lanes for the Pro Bowl back.
The Ravens will need to establish the run early, opening up the play-action passing game for Flacco.
If the Ravens want to return to the playoffs for a sixth straight season, the offensive line will need to continue to play at a high level and provide solid running lanes and pass protection.
Look for offensive line coach Andy Moeller to have his unit ready to play down the stretch, as the Ravens look to repeat as Super Bowl champions.