Needing to decide by 4 p.m. Monday whether they would designate left tackle Eugene Monroe as their franchise player, the Ravens elected not to use the tag on their starting left tackle.
The Ravens would have been required to offer an $11.654 million tender if they’d named Monroe their franchise player. Prior to signing tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract on Friday, the Ravens had roughly $26 million in cap space, which does not include tenders for exclusive-rights free agents and restricted free agents. However, with other pressing needs on the offensive line as well as at wide receiver and free safety, the tag price was considered a steep investment with no guarantee of a long-term deal in the future.
Several outlets reported Monday morning that the sides remained far apart in long-term contract negotiations as other teams such as the Miami Dolphins have already leaked interest in the 26-year-old should he hit the market when free agency begins on March 11. The 2009 first-round pick has routinely been ranked in the top 10 of available NFL free agents by various outlets.
Other teams may begin negotiating with Monroe on March 8, but no contracts may be signed before next Tuesday at 4 p.m. at the start of the new league year. However, with no tag in place, it appears unlikely that the offensive lineman wouldn’t want to at least explore other offers on the open market.
According to Pro Football Focus, Monroe earned the fourth-best grade of any tackle in the league over the final 11 weeks of the 2013 season, the period of time in which he played with the Ravens. The University of Virginia product has never been named to the Pro Bowl but has started 73 of 76 games in his five-year career, showing durability and consistent play despite spending most of that time with the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.
Monroe has continued to work out at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills and has acknowledged he would like to remain in Baltimore after the Ravens forked over fourth- and fifth-round picks to acquire him from Jacksonville last October, but he does not intend to give them a hometown discount.
“I want to be here, but I know there could be opportunities everywhere,” Monroe said in an interview with AM 1570 WNST last month. “I just have to be patient and wait for things to unfold. Everyone in the business should understand that you have to get the absolute best, and that you can’t give any discounts because you have to have you and your family’s best interest at heart.”
The Ravens have routinely used the franchise tag as a mechanism to extend the negotiating window in order to eventually reach a multi-year contract, but a simple look at the last three times general manager Ozzie Newsome used the tag indicates the tender amount ultimately provides a framework for the average cost per year of a long-term deal, which may have made Baltimore leery over a figure approaching $12 million.
In 2009, linebacker Terrell Suggs was tagged with a $10.2 million tender before signing a deal worth $10.5 million per season over six years, Two years later, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata received a $12.4 million franchise tender before signing a contract worth $12.2 million per year over five seasons. And two years ago, running back Ray Rice was set to play for a $7.7 million franchise amount before inking a five-year contract paying an average of $7 million per season.
In other words, Monday’s decision could simply be viewed as the Ravens not valuing Monroe as an $11.65 million-per-year player.
In their 19-year history, the Ravens have used the franchise tag on five players — designating cornerback Chris McAlister and linebacker Terrell Suggs twice each — and only failed to reach a long-term agreement with one as offensive lineman Wally Williams departed after the 1998 season to sign a contract with the New Orleans Saints.