Is the Ravens' Choice Not to Tag Eugene Monroe Too Big of a Gamble?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMarch 4, 2014

USA Today

The Baltimore Ravens could have used the franchise tag or transition tag on left tackle Eugene Monroe by Monday's deadline but opted not to.

The Ravens have a respectable $24.929 million in salary cap space for 2014, per Spotrac. However, the franchise tag would have eaten up $11.654 million and the transition tag $10.039 million—far too much money for a good, but not All-Pro caliber, left tackle like Monroe.

This means that unless a deal is hammered out between now and the March 11 start of free agency, Monroe could be destined for the open market and another team. While it's true that players—even left tackles—come and go in the NFL, for the Ravens, this could be a major tipping point.

Pro Football Focus' 2013 Grades for Ravens O-Line
PlayerPositionOverallPass BlockRun BlockSacksHitsHurries
via Pro Football Focus (subscription required)

The Ravens had a poor offensive line in 2013, but Monroe was one of the brighter spots. Monroe was the Ravens' best pass protector and second-best run-blocker according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and ranked in the top 10 among left tackles on the season.

Losing Monroe would drop their ranks of truly talented offensive linemen to one—right guard Marshal Yanda. But the ripple effect of Monroe moving on would affect the Ravens in other ways. For one, they would likely have to find a way to re-sign right tackle Michael Oher because the Ravens can in no way afford losing both of their starting offensive tackles from 2013, no matter how disappointing Oher has been.

It also means more of the Ravens' draft resources will have to be spent on the offensive line. While it was already expected at least two of their picks could be dedicated to the line, now it could dominate their draft. That could thus come at the expense of other positions for which the Ravens also need starter-caliber players, like at wide receiver and tight end. 

Ultimately, it could cost the Ravens more if they allow Monroe to move on than if they choose to pay him. There's no doubt that Baltimore can get him at the lowest possible price for a tackle of his skill if they can negotiate a contract before free agency begins. Otherwise, the Ravens could find themselves priced out of a bidding war between other tackle-needy teams.

However, as of Monday, the Ravens and Monroe "remain far apart in contract negotiations," per Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. If this is an indication that Monroe wants—and thinks he can get—$10 to $11 million per year in his next contract, that would be bad news for the Ravens. 

The only thing that could potentially save the Ravens is the shallowness of this year's group of free agent left tackles in respect to the depth of the draft prospects at the position. Teams may opt to save a significant amount of money by pursuing a rookie rather than locking Monroe down to a multi-year, $10-plus million per year deal.

The market could drive Monroe's value down to $7 or $8 million per year, which would make him affordable for the Ravens.

If the Ravens cannot re-sign Eugene Monroe, look for that cash to go toward a deal for Michael Oher, who is also set to hit free agency next week.
If the Ravens cannot re-sign Eugene Monroe, look for that cash to go toward a deal for Michael Oher, who is also set to hit free agency next week.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It's not hard to see what kind of gamble the Ravens are taking with Monroe. They're hoping, in lieu of a breakthrough in negotiations over the coming week, that the free-agent market will bring his price down to a level the Ravens find affordable rather than inflate it beyond their means. Add in to the mix the state of the Ravens' offensive line heading into the 2014 season, and things get more complicated and, potentially, more desperate.

Though the increase in the salary cap this year to $133 million has given the Ravens a bit more breathing room when it comes to finding the cash for Monroe, they still cannot dedicate nearly half of that remaining space to him when they also need to find a way to re-sign linebacker Daryl Smith, pay their rookie class and make a few other, smaller-value free agent signings. 

Monroe is important to the Ravens offense, without question. But their financial situation and Monroe's sense of his own value means they may have to risk losing him in free agency. Giving Monroe either tag wouldn't have been financially prudent for the Ravens. 

The Ravens have no choice but to keep negotiating and hope that Monroe will agree to a deal that is fair to both sides. If they cannot, hopefully the Ravens have a good plan B in their back pockets. The offensive line is the single biggest problem the team must solve this offseason, and Monroe's presence on the roster would have made that process easier.