Looking for winning fit, free-agent tackle Winston will visit Ravens on Friday

March 15, 2012 | Luke Jones

Eric Winston thought he’d be vacationing with his wife this week.

Instead, the free-agent right tackle is looking for a new home after surprisingly being cut by the Houston Texans on Monday after six productive seasons. The 28-year-old is scheduled to meet with the Ravens on Friday after visiting Miami on Wednesday and Kansas City on Thursday. Winston will also reportedly meet with Detroit and St. Louis.

After tasting success with his first playoff appearance and an AFC South championship last season, Winston is looking for the best landing spot to give him an opportunity to win the Super Bowl, making Baltimore an attractive destination.

“That’s what you shoot for,” Winston said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST on Thursday. “That’s what you want. I’d be hard-pressed to go back to another rebuilding project.”

Blindsided by the Texans’ decision to dump him, Winston is now making the best out of being a free agent and trying to find the best possible fit for him and his family. The process reminds him of when he made visits with teams as a draft prospect, only he gets to ask more questions this time around.

A 2006 third-round pick from the University of Miami, Winston acknowledges the bond he feels with former Hurricanes such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Bryant McKinnie, even though they played in Coral Gables before his time. He even joked that Lewis was like his grandfather and Reed his father in talking about Miami lore.

“Those guys were just such great examples of what it meant to play there and the intensity and just the passion that you play with at the U,” Winston said. “Of course, you can still look at them now and say that’s the way you’re supposed to play in the NFL.”

Winston hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, starting all 16 regular-season games for the Texans in each of the last five years. He hadn’t been contacted by former Houston teammates and current Ravens Vonta Leach and Bernard Pollard as of Thursday afternoon, but Winston expressed affection for each player.

“Those are great teammates,” said Winston, who joked that he called Pollard “Benny” to irritate him in the Houston locker room. “Those were guys I’ll always remember because of the people and players they are.”

Putting aside the money needed to sign Winston, the Ravens would be in a curious position should they get him to agree to terms. Current right tackle Michael Oher has two years remaining on his original rookie deal, so there’s no reason to think his roster spot would be in jeopardy. However, veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie is owed a $500,000 bonus on Saturday and is scheduled to make a $2 million base salary in the final year of his contract, meaning the Ravens could release the 32-year-old to save cap room.

It’s difficult envisioning the Ravens signing Winston and asking him to play left tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his rookie season when he did it on a very limited basis. Baltimore could move Oher back to the left side, but he has clearly performed better on the right side over his three-year career.

With the Ravens needing a left guard to fill the void left behind by Ben Grubbs — free-agent guard Evan Mathis visited with the team in Owings Mills on Thursday — a more radical idea would be to sign Winston and shift Oher to left guard, a position he hasn’t played since his first year at Ole Miss. Tackles can generally move inside without as much difficulty as interior linemen trying to shift outside, but it would be an unconventional move to say the least.

Of course, this is nothing more than speculation beyond Winston being scheduled to visit with the Ravens on Friday. With the number of teams interested in the right tackle, the Ravens will have a difficult time landing the former Texans tackle at a suitable price, but there’s no disputing his talent.

To hear Winston’s entire interview with WNST.net’s Glenn Clark on Thursday afternoon, click HERE.

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