At the end-of-season press conference a few weeks ago, it looked like the Ravens’ offensive line would undergo significant changes in 2012.
That doesn’t appear to be a foregone conclusion anymore.
With general manager Ozzie Newsome expressing a more positive outlook on free-agent Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs on Friday and veteran center Matt Birk intending to come back for a 15th NFL season, the Ravens could ultimately field the same starting offensive line when it kicks off the 2012 season in September. Before that can happen, however, Newsome and the front office must make difficult decisions regarding each player.
Considered all but a foregone conclusion that Grubbs would depart via free agency when speaking about the 2007 first-round pick’s future a few weeks ago, Newsome and coach John Harbaugh revealed in Indianapolis that the Ravens have had contract discussions with Grubbs’ agent Pat Dye. The Ravens must still decide whether they can award another hefty contract to an interior lineman after signing Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to a five-year, $32.5 million contract, a deal that would almost certainly need to be surpassed to keep Grubbs in Baltiimore.
Widely regarded as the Ravens’ best offensive lineman, Grubbs will be difficult to keep should he hit the open market on March 13, but the comments made by Newsome and Harbaugh suggest they may have enough salary cap room to keep the 2011 Pro Bowl selection. At the very least, the remarks served as a volley to Grubbs and Dye to show how serious they are about trying to reach an agreement before the start of free agency.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have different factors to weigh in deciding whether to re-sign Birk, who will be 36 years old next season. When asked about Birk on Friday before his agent Joe Linta revealed his client’s intentions to play again in 2012, Newsome was non-committal and previously said during the season-ending press conference the Ravens would add another center to the roster regardless of what happened with either Birk or fellow veteran Andre Gurode.
Working out a short-term contract for Birk that makes sense for both sides shouldn’t be an issue, but the veteran will want to know what the Ravens envision for his role next season. A cerebral player and a great teammate, Birk would be the ideal mentor for a potential draft pick such as Wisconsin’s Peter Konz, but he may not be as receptive should the Ravens ask him to be a reserve.
Speaking of Konz or a player of similar ability, he would be a valuable pick at the end of the first round if the Ravens elect to sign Birk but are unable to retain Grubb’s services. Considered physical enough to play guard in addition to center at the professional level, Konz could spend a season at left guard while learning from Birk at the center position before taking over the position full-time in 2013.
Regardless of what they ultimately decide with Grubbs and Birk, the Ravens will look to address the offensive line in April’s draft, especially when factoring in aging left tackle Bryant McKinnie and his contract that expires next season. Even if the Ravens decide against taking a guard or center in the early rounds, a talented but green left tackle such as Ohio State’s Mike Adams may be available at the end of the first round for Newsome and the front office to strongly consider.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the NFL Combine this weekend in Indianapolis was Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, who joined WNST.net’s Glenn Clark last Friday, before showing impressive athleticism over the weekend.
Playing in Paul Johnson’s run-oriented triple-option offense, Hill’s stats (28 receptions and five touchdowns in 2011) don’t exactly scream premium talent, but his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame and 4.36-second 40 time turned more than a few heads in Indianapolis. Though teams should proceed with caution while trying to learn more about Hill’s ability as a receiver other than the limited passing tree he ran with the Yellow Jackets, he certainly looks like the prototype the Ravens could use as a red-zone target as well as another speedy option to complement Torrey Smith.