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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Much like the decision to fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron less than 10 months ago, the Ravens’ move to trade for Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe seemingly came out of nowhere Tuesday despite massive concerns on the offensive side of the football.
As was the case last December, making such a bold move in the middle of a season goes against what we’ve come to recognize as the Ravens’ methodical DNA over the 18-year history of the franchise, but it’s difficult to argue against the effort to improve an offense ranked 28th in total yards, 28th in rushing yards, and tied for 15th in points per game through the first quarter of the season. The trade essentially signals the end of the Bryant McKinnie era in Baltimore — whether the 34-year-old remains as a backup or is moved to another team remains to be seen — but general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn’t act swiftly without the big picture in mind.
The decision to add the fifth-year tackle Monroe serves as a wake-up call to the entire offense more so than a simple indictment of McKinnie’s disappointing play through the first four weeks of the season as the veteran tackle was far from the only — or biggest — problem plaguing the Ravens. Monroe represents an opportunity to upgrade one area while sending a message that no one is beyond reproach.
“Everybody will take the message however they take it,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know a message is so much intended. We always want to improve, we want to be the best team we can be every single way across the board, and whatever that message is, it is.”
The response to Monday’s trade in the Ravens locker room wasn’t bubbling over with optimism — left tackles that play outside your division don’t exactly receive a ton of attention — but a common theme expressed by members of the offensive line as well as other teammates was the need to keep working to improve. Considered no more than an above-average tackle by the most-generous talent evaluators, Monroe won’t fix the Ravens’ other offensive issues at center, wide receiver, and tight end, but he could be a part of the solution the offense still seeks to fix a running game averaging just 2.6 yards per carry so far this season and to pump life into a passing game with few dependable weapons.
The outside addition of Monroe brings youth to the left tackle position, but substantial improvements offensively will need to come from within. The Ravens were still maneuvering as of Tuesday afternoon to fit Monroe’s $3.8 million base salary under the $123 million salary cap before it was reported later in the evening that Jacksonville would handle most of the bill in the form of a bonus. Baltimore will only be on the hook for $547,000 of his salary while the Jaguars will pay about $2.4 million of his salary, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
With such little cap space remaining, there are no easy fixes at this point.
“We just put our heads down every day and go to work,” right tackle Michael Oher said. “I don’t know what kind of message [the trade] can send. We just go to work and are trying to get things corrected.”
The Ravens will send fourth and fifth-round draft choices to Jacksonville in exchange for Monroe, which isn’t a light price knowing how Newsome and the front office value those choices every year. However, the Ravens will receive four compensatory picks in next April’s draft, easing the loss of those choices.
Even so, Newsome and the Ravens couldn’t pass on the opportunity of acquiring a 26-year-old tackle with the quickness to succeed in run-game coordinator Juan Castillo’s zone blocking schemes. Since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden following the 2007 season, the Ravens have searched for a long-term solution at left tackle with Jared Gaither, Oher, and the veteran McKinnie not fitting the part. And Newsome saw how difficult it was to find one this offseason with limited cap space for the open market and the 32nd overall pick of the first round, eventually settling on a two-year deal with McKinnie.
Hapless Jacksonville provided a unique opportunity for the Ravens to nab a left tackle before he hits free agency and the possibility of the kind of bidding war in which Newsome rarely engages. Only time will tell if the Ravens will sign Monroe to a long-term deal as Oher’s rookie contract will also expire after the season.
Playing for the woeful Jaguars his entire career, Monroe hasn’t lived up to the hype of being the eighth overall pick of the 2009 draft, but his age and athleticism could be attractive in providing the Ravens with long-term stability at a position that’s been in flux for franchise quarterback Joe Flacco’s entire career. Furthermore, the Ravens generally aren’t in the business of trading multiple draft picks for a short-term fix.
The possibility of Monroe being an answer at left tackle for the next few years would be much more valuable than the short-term wake-up call to help a flawed Ravens offense for the remainder of the 2013 season.
“Tackle is a hot commodity in the league,” running back Ray Rice said. “Anytime you find a young tackle that’s as athletic as him, have a chance to get him, and take him out of a situation where he can get a fresh start — it usually works out in the guy’s favor. I’m looking forward to getting him here and catching him up to speed.”