Jared Gaither Is the Missing Piece in the Baltimore Ravens' Offense

Drew FrazierContributor IIIJune 8, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 16:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens huddles with teammates against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lucas Oli Stadium on January 16, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Last offseason, the Baltimore Ravens made it a priority to surround Joe Flacco with offensive weapons, something many people believed he needed in order to take the next step in his development. As we all know, the Ravens didn’t achieve their lofty goals on offense.

One of the biggest factors in the offense’s struggles was the lack of pass protection for Flacco. The problem started with a surprise injury to Jared Gaither, the Ravens’ left tackle and best pass protector in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Gaither arrived at last offseason’s training camp weighing 311 pounds, 29 pounds lighter than his previous playing weight of 340 pounds. This set off a storm of negative media, which also pointed out that Gaither hadn’t worked out in Baltimore during the offseason.

Later on in camp, Gaither revealed that he had a neck/back injury, which sidelined him during several practices. Michael Oher replaced Gaither at LT while he was sidelined, and that sparked speculation that Gaither was being moved to RT.

Keep in mind that the Ravens were one of the most hyped teams last offseason, and with Domonique Foxworth’s season ending injury on the first day of training camp, fans were already on the edge of their seats. There was speculation that Gaither was lazy during the offseason and that the injury was a result of his poor conditioning.

There was also speculation that Gaither refused to play RT, that his weight loss was an act of defiance, and that he was faking the injury because he didn’t want to play RT. These rumors were not substantiated by the Ravens. In fact, they seemed to support Gaither’s recovery process, but the fans were still outraged.

Gaither’s injury turned out to be season ending, and the Ravens were forced to start Michael Oher at LT with only one year on experience at RT. On top of all that, they were desperately thin at tackle. As the season wore on, it became clear that the Ravens were having a hard time protecting Flacco, and defensive coordinators began to blitz with impunity.

That was the story of the Ravens' offense in 2010. Some analysts say that Flacco wasn’t always seeing the field. Others say that the Ravens’ receivers were too slow and not getting open. Either way, there’s no denying that the pressure on the quarterback was the underlying problem. Flacco rarely had time to find his open receivers, and the fact that the Ravens lacked a speedy receiver only made things worse.

That’s why the Ravens need to re-sign Jared Gaither. In 2008 and 2009, he was one of the team’s best offensive linemen. In 2008, Gaither started 15 games as the offensive line led the way for 2,376 rushing yards and allowed the second fewest sacks in franchise history.

Individually, Gaither only allowed three sacks in 2008 and gutted through an entire game with the use of only one arm. In 2009, Gaither helped Ray Rice accomplish his amazing 2,041 yards from scrimmage. The difference is clear between the success of the offensive lines in 2008-2009 and the struggles of last season.

Currently, Gaither is a RFA under the old CBA. If the NFL plays under those rules next season, the Ravens would simple give Gaither a RFA tender, and he would play for them. If a new CBA is agreed upon, Gaither may be a UFA, which would require the Ravens to re-sign him. Many people say that it’s not worth the risk to re-sign Gaither and that he has too many question marks.

The biggest question mark is Gaither’s work ethic. The general consensus is that he does not work hard. It was only made worse by the fact that he did not show up for voluntary training camp last offseason. There may be some merit to this, but there aren’t enough facts backing up either side of the argument. The laziness issues may be concerning, but in all fairness, they are still speculation.

The only thing we really have is his past performance. The fact is that Gaither has started many games for the Ravens and has been a dominate player when on the field. At some point we need to simply look at his body of work and stop speculating. Gaither has excelled at one of the hardest positions in football. It’s hard to be lazy and accomplish that.

The second biggest question mark is the contract that Gaither would sign. Many people think that the Ravens do not have enough money to re-sign Gaither and are afraid that the Ravens would be pouring too much money into the offensive tackle position, since Michael Oher is also perceived as a franchise LT. This is a valid concern, but remember that Oher is still playing on his affordable rookie contract, which is only $13.8 million over five years. The Ravens can afford to keep both Gaither and Oher.

The final question mark is about Michael Oher versus Jared Gaither. Since Oher played LT in the absence of Gaither last season, it is assumed by most that Oher will continue to play LT.  The problem is that Jared Gaither will want an opportunity to compete to start at LT, and based on Oher’s performance at LT last season and Gaither’s experience, Gaither would probably win that competition. That leads most fans to draw the conclusion that Gaither should not be re-signed or only re-signed to play RT, which is not his ideal position.

Unfortunately, that conclusion goes against a winning philosophy in the NFL. The NFL is too competitive not to play the best players on the team at their best positions. With the injuries to Gaither and Foxworth last offseason, we saw how the loss of a single player could greatly affect the team.

The Ravens need Gaither. Even with the third-round selection of Jah Reid, they are desperately thin at tackle. If they enter the season with Oher and Reid as their starters, they would be one injury away from the same offensive line problems from last season. Reid may be a solid player, but starting a rookie is a risk.

As much as the Ravens need Gaither, re-signing with the team is his best option, and he knows it. If Gaither signs a long-term deal this off-season, he would be forced to take much less than he is capable of since he missed all of last season. Other teams will also be less likely to outbid the Ravens since Gaither would not only be coming off a back injury, but would also need to learn a new system.

Gaither’s best option is to re-sign with the Ravens on a one-year contract and get a solid year under his belt. Ultimately, that’s the most likely scenario since the Ravens will probably not want to risk a multi-year commitment.