(Mitch Stringer / Mitch Stringer-USA…)
The Ravens made a smart move by not putting the franchise tag on left offensive tackle Eugene Monroe on Monday. That's a designation used on a player who is one of the best at his position.
Monroe isn't in that class.
Oh, he's good. And in the prime of his career, he deserves a hefty, long-term contract. But if the Ravens had tagged him the franchise player and hadn't gotten a long-term deal by July 15, they would have had to pay him $11.654 million for the coming season. If the Ravens don't reach a deal with Monroe before the new league year begins March 11, he will become an unrestricted free agent.
No way. We're talking Eugene Monroe here, not Jonathan Ogden.
Apparently Monroe's agent and the Ravens never got close to a deal, sources told The Baltimore Sun. But it's not hard to figure out a fair offer for Monroe. Last offseason left tackle Jermon Bushrod signed a five-year deal worth about $7.1 million per season with the Chicago Bears and fellow tackle Will Beatty agreed to a five-year deal worth $38.75 million to re-sign with the New York Giants.
So, an $8 million to $8.5 million offer per season appears fair and logical, especially for a player of Monroe's caliber. But according to two agents who did not want to be named, a so-called elite tackle like Kansas City's Brandon Albert is going to command $10 million to $12 million per season, and some others want to remain close.
It is not certain if Monroe is asking for that kind of money, but this we know for sure: He isn't elite and the Ravens shouldn't break the bank to re-sign him.
"People like to throw around that word, 'elite,' and he is not in the class," said former Ravens center-guard Wally Williams, the team's first franchise player. "But for a guy who came in after he moved his family and had about one week to learn the playbook, you have to give him credit because he was a very solid player.
"But nobody on that offensive line scared anybody. There was no dominating, physical player that overwhelmed anyone. With a full season to be in the building and to learn the offense I would bring him back, but I'm not giving him a contract in the top tier."
Monroe will do well if Ravens coordinator Gary Kubiak runs the West Coast offense the way he did with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. In that offense, linemen don't have to be brutes or maulers, just big and athletic. Linemen don't have to engage as long in pass protections because most of the passes are three-step dropbacks, not five to seven. Receivers run quick routes instead of long ones.
Monroe fits the build. He is 6-feet-5 and weighs 305 pounds. He is athletic and runs extremely well. Last year he was the Ravens' best lineman and graded out high in every game except for the time he went against the Bears' Julius Peppers.
In his five NFL seasons, Monroe has played regularly without missing many snaps for either the Ravens or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"The offense doesn't make him a better player, but it takes advantage of his athleticism and skill set," Williams said.
The Ravens also want Monroe to return because he brings leadership to the locker room. By the end of last season he had become a go-to guy when explaining what had gone wrong, or talking to younger players.
His return comes down to money. There is a belief the Ravens will be embarrassed if Monroe doesn't return because they gave two draft choices to Jacksonville to sign him, but the Ravens could get one or both of them back in compensatory picks.
Also, the West Coast offense is good for the development of young offensive linemen. The protection slides are easy and the line calls are simple.
"It's almost like dummying down your blocking scheme, nothing like we had here when I was with the Ravens," said Williams, who played for the Ravens in the mid-1990s.
So, if Monroe eventually goes elsewhere, the Ravens can find a serviceable tackle in this offense, or possibly obtain one in the draft. He doesn't have to come from a major college. Former Ravens linemen Tony Jones, Orlando Brown and Williams were all undrafted free agents.
The Ravens want to re-sign Monroe, just not overpay him. He is valuable to the franchise, but not a franchise player.