Ravens complete deal and then sit back as first day of NFL free agency closes

(Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore…)
March 11, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

On an eventful first day of free agency that saw a ton of money change hands and a boatload of players change uniforms, the Ravens stuck to a familiar script.

About 30 minutes after the market opened at 4 p.m., the Ravens fulfilled their top free-agent priority agreeing to terms with left tackle Eugene Monroe on a five-year, $37.5 million deal, according to a league source. Otherwise, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens' front office continued to exercise patience, choosing mostly to stand down while other teams threw money around at a dizzying rate.

The Ravens did lose defensive tackle Arthur Jones, who signed a five-year, $33 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts, reuniting with his former defensive coordinator in Baltimore, Chuck Pagano, now the Colts' head coach.

Jones, a 2010 fifth-round pick who developed into one of the Ravens' best two-way defensive linemen, is a loss as he started 13 games last year and registered 53 tackles and four sacks. However, his departure after his breakout 2013 season was expected and the Ravens couldn't have been too disappointed to end the day with their left tackle back in the fold at a price tag less than what some around the league anticipated.

According to a source, Monroe's deal included an $11 million signing bonus and $19 million in guaranteed money, and carries a $3.2 million salary cap hit for the 2014 season. It essentially comes out to $7.5 million per year for the 26-year-old who the Ravens acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars last October for a fourth and fifth-round draft pick.

"I'm excited, man," Monroe said in a phone interview Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun. "Anytime you get to play at this level even for a short amount of time, it's a blessing. It's a win all-around in every aspect for me, proximity to my family in New Jersey and my wife and her side of her family, which is literally right here. You can't beat it. That's awesome. I'm definitely appreciative for the Ravens having faith in my ability to play at a high level. I'm looking forward to continuing to improve, so we can continue to win ballgames."

At one point late last week, a deal between Monroe and the Ravens appeared unlikely as the two sides remained far apart despite weeks of negotiations. However, the market for left tackles was essentially set early in the process when the top available players at the position started honing in on certain teams.

Glen Burnie's Branden Albert, a former Kansas City Chief, agreed to a reported five-year, $46 million deal with the Miami Dolphins that included $25 million in guaranteed money. The Oakland Raiders plucked tackle/guard Rodger Saffold away from the Chiefs, while the Arizona Cardinals signed former Raider, Jared Veldheer, to play left tackle. The Ravens, meanwhile, remained the best fit for Monroe whose wife's family is from Columbia.

"I was confident it would work out," Monroe said. "I wasn't concerned at all. I talked to Ozzie frequently through the year and he said, 'We'll make sure it works and be a great deal for both sides.' And now it did and I'm very happy."

The signing of Monroe is the first offseason step toward solidifying an offensive line that struggled to protect quarterback Joe Flacco last season, or open up any holes for Ray Rice and the running game. The Ravens, however, still have more work to do along the offensive line. They need to settle on a position for Kelechi Osemele who if healthy after back surgery, to play either left guard or right tackle. They'll need to address the other position while also adding some veteran competition for center Gino Gradkowski who struggled this past season in his first as a starter.

But the Ravens still have nearly $16 million in salary cap space after the Monroe deal, and plenty of time to address their needs.

The first day of free agency brought few surprises and few developments that figure to change the Ravens' free agent plans. The Ravens remained focused on trying to re-sign some of their own unrestricted free agents, maintaining dialogue with the representatives of wide receiver/kick returner Jacoby Jones and cornerback Corey Graham. However, both players are considering opportunities elsewhere as Jones will spend Wednesday meeting with the New York Giants while Graham will take a free agent visit to the Washington Redskins, confirmed sources.

They opted not to immediately attack their need for a play-making free safety and then watched as six of the top available safeties, a group that included potential targets Antoine Bethea and Malcolm Jenkins, signed elsewhere.

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