We won't know for sure until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, but Ravens guard Marshal Yanda might be an unrestricted free agent when the NFL reopens business. If that's the case, the Ravens will have plenty of competition for the services of Yanda, a versatile and valuable member of their line.
Yanda has started 42 games on the Ravens’ offensive line over the past four seasons, and the mysterious ailment that sidelined Jared Gaither forced the Ravens to move him from right guard to right tackle last season. Yanda acclimated nicely, playing well enough at tackle to get national attention from SI’s Peter King.
Baltimore would like him to play guard -- they plan on letting third-round pick Jah Reid compete for the right tackle spot if the team can’t retain Gaither -- and they would like to pay him like a guard, too. Count on other teams courting him as a tackle, and perhaps driving his asking price out of the Ravens’ budget.
The Ravens are expected to have other key free agents -- including Gaither, fullback Le’Ron McClain and cornerbacks Josh Wilson and Chris Carr -- but Yanda might be the most important of that bunch. Chris Chester is a serviceable backup on the interior, but the Ravens are better off with him waiting in the wings.
Yanda was the team’s best run blocker last season, and this offseason, coach John Harbaugh stated his desire to get back to smashmouth football in 2011 after last season’s disappointing offensive display. Yanda’s middle name is Smashmouth.
OK, fine, it’s John. But whatever.
Whether Yanda plays at right guard or right tackle, the Ravens offensive line is better -- and nastier -- with him on it.
They know this, and they will try like to heck to get him locked up as soon as the lockout comes to a close. Hopefully they can do it before his price tag skyrockets out of their price range.