The Baltimore Ravens definitely need to bring in some outside help to improve their roster, but there are a number of high-priority free agents on their own roster that they need to focus on first. Players like Dennis Pitta, Corey Graham and Daryl Smith have been vital members of the Baltimore roster, but none of them are more important to the Ravens’ long-term success than left tackle Eugene Monroe.
For starters, he was by far the best lineman to wear a Ravens uniform in 2013. Not only did he pass the eye test, but the advanced stats also support that notion. Here’s how Pro Football Focus graded every lineman’s 2013 performance (subscription required):
|Ravens O-Linemen in 2013|
|PLAYER||SNAPS||OVERALL GRADE||PASS BLOCK GRADE||RUN BLOCK GRADE||POSITIONAL RANK||RANK OUT OF|
|ProFootballFocus [*Note: Rick Wagner and Jah Reid did not qualify for positional ranking because they didn't play enough snaps*]|
This table does more than cause Ravens fans to spiral into depression as they remember the putrid offensive line of 2013. It shows just how spectacular Monroe was despite playing with teammates who consistently blew assignments and provided no support for Monroe.
Furthermore, those numbers don’t reflect just how much better Monroe played compared to the rest of his teammates.
Firstly, Pro Football Focus grades every snap, and those grades you see in the table are cumulative. What this means for our purposes is that a good player’s grade will be higher (and a bad player’s grade will be lower) with more snaps.
Look at those snap counts. Monroe played 380 fewer snaps than Marshal Yanda and Gino Gradkowski and 324 fewer snaps than Michael Oher.
Additionally, he was adjusting to a new system and new teammates, but he was still better than players who had an entire offseason to learn the system and had played with this team for years.
Imagine what the grade disparity would look like if Monroe had an entire summer to learn the system and he played every snap for the Ravens.
But the reason why general manager Ozzie Newsome must do everything in his power to keep Monroe in purple and black go beyond his performance relative to the rest of his teammates—after all, saying he was way better than an abysmal O-line isn’t saying much.
No, Monroe is a legitimate franchise cornerstone at the left tackle position. He’s a guy whom you can leave on an island against the best pass-rushers in the game and have faith that Joe Flacco won’t be blindsided.
And that brings us to the No. 1 reason why Newsome has to re-sign Monroe: Joe Flacco.
In case you hadn’t heard, Flacco just finished the first year of a $120 million contract. He’s going to be the franchise quarterback for the next five years at the very least—but he might not last that long if the O-line continues to execute so poorly.
Flacco took a beating unlike anything he had ever experienced in his career—and it showed.
By the end of the season, Flacco was dealing with a sprained MCL, and with each successive hit, it took him longer to peel himself off the turf.
If Flacco is the $120 million Ferrari that controls the Baltimore offense, Monroe is like State Farm (or All State or whatever insurance firm takes your fancy). As we saw last season, Monroe can’t do it all by himself, but he’s been way better than anyone else the Ravens have slotted at left tackle since Jared Gaither.
Moreover, Monroe is just 26 years old! Signing him to a long-term deal would ensure his prime years unfold in M&T Bank Stadium. Head coach John Harbaugh talked about how well Monroe played last year, via Garrett Downing of BaltimoreRavens.com:
I don’t think there’s any question that people feel like Eugene Monroe is a long-term answer at left tackle. Everybody around the league feels that way, and he’s here, he likes it here. He did a heck of a job. So, whether we’re able to do that or not, I think that will be addressed over the next couple of weeks. Like I said, I want every good player here, and he’s a good player. So, I want him here.
Unfortunately, Harbaugh touched on a key point. He is widely considered to be one of the best left tackles on the market depending on how you feel about Branden Albert and Jordan Gross. But no tackle has Monroe’s combination of proven excellence and enticing age—which means he could be in for a huge payday.
After all, it’s not like 2013 was his lone standout year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required):
|Eugene Monroe's Studly Performance|
|SEASON||OVERALL PFF GRADE||POSITIONAL RANK||RANKED OUT OF|
Eugene Monroe is the single most important move of the Ravens' offseason. He would be a franchise left tackle to anchor an offensive line. Let’s hope that he’s an anchor in Baltimore and not in some other city.
To talk offseason, draft or anything Ravens-related, get at me on Twitter @shehan_peiris