After Ben Grubbs hit the open market on Tuesday, what felt like the inevitable became reality two days later as the Pro Bowl left guard said goodbye to the Ravens by signing a five-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.
The deal is reportedly worth $36 million and includes a $10 million signing bonus and $16 million in guaranteed money. After losing star left guard Carl Nicks to Tampa Bay a day earlier, the Saints made it clear Grubbs was their target to replace him and paid him as such. The former Ravens guard was regarded by most as the second-best guard available behind Nicks.
“There were a lot of things I had to factor in – winning, the locker room, coaches and location,” Grubbs told the Saints’ official Twitter account. “Location is at the bottom of my list but it is still important to me. When I looked at New Orleans, they had all the variables in the right place. It was an easy choice for me.”
Selected with the 29th overall pick of the 2007 draft, Grubbs was a mainstay on the Baltimore offensive line over the last five seasons. His exit leaves a major void on the left side as general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens visited with free-agent guard Evan Mathis on Thursday and will now look at remaining options on the open market.
With the Ravens only holding between $8 and $9 million of projected salary cap space and needing to address several needs this offseason, it was widely assumed they would be unable to retain Grubbs’ services despite having made a “substantial offer” in coach John Harbaugh’s words a few weeks ago. Unable to reach an agreement with agent Pat Dye prior to Tuesday, the Ravens knew their chances of keeping Grubbs diminished greatly once he hit the open market.
A source tells WNST.net’s Drew Forrester the Ravens offered Grubbs $32.5 million, which would have matched the total money of the contract awarded to Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda last summer. Yanda’s five-year contract included a $10 million signing bonus.
Many have questioned whether the Ravens should award another substantial contract at the guard position with current left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s contract set to expire after the 2012 season, but Grubbs was regarded by most as the Ravens’ top offensive lineman. With McKinnie set to turn 33 in September, the Ravens will need to make major decisions regarding the left side of their line in the coming months.
Grubbs’ departure is arguably an unprecedented outcome for the Ravens in dealings with their former first-round picks. Of players selected in the first round in the history of the franchise, the only other one to leave via free agency in which one could argue the Ravens would have liked to retain was cornerback Duane Starks, who departed in 2002 with the Ravens in the middle of a massive salary-cap purge.
The 28-year-old Grubbs had never missed a game in his career prior to being sidelined for six games in 2011 with a turf toe injury. Grubbs’ return to the lineup in early November stabilized an inconsistent offensive line and helped catapult Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice to lead the league in yards from scrimmage. McKinnie credited Grubbs as the main reason why he was able to quickly acclimate himself to the Ravens after being signed late in the preseason last August.
In addition to left guard, the Ravens must address the center position with veterans Matt Birk and Andre Gurode both free agents. They remain in negotiations with Birk’s agent Joe Linta and are scheduled to meet with him this week.
A former standout at Auburn, Grubbs becomes the third unrestricted free agent to depart Baltimore after defensive end Cory Redding and linebacker Jarret Johnson signed deals elsewhere on Wednesday.