OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After a turbulent few hours in which it looked like the Ravens were dumping their starting left tackle before eventually coming to an agreement on a restructured contract, John Harbaugh did the only thing he could when meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon.
The head coach presented himself as an advocate for Bryant McKinnie after general manager Ozzie Newsome and agent Michael George ironed out an agreement to reduce the 32-year-old’s $3.2 million base salary for the 2012 season. For Harbaugh, it was business as usual talking about the man entrusted to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blind side.
“He’s here. I just had a great conversation with him,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been on the team, and we move forward, and we’re happy about that.”
The organization’s reasons for requesting a restructure only six days before the season opener remain a mystery as McKinnie admitted he was taken aback when the Ravens requested to reduce his salary all the way down to $1.6 million or he would be released. The left tackle had resigned himself earlier in the day Tuesday that he would no longer be a member of the organization after refusing to take a 50-percent pay cut.
The timing appeared odd for an organization always priding itself in doing things the right way.
“I’m still not quite sure what the reasoning was,” McKinnie told AM 1570 WNST.net on Tuesday afternoon. “It was a weird conversation.”
McKinnie’s agent George would not disclose the base salary on which the sides ultimately agreed, only confirming his client would have the ability to reach the original $3.2 million through incentives this season. The Ravens initially demanded a reduction to a $1.6 million base salary, a number that was “a lot lower” than the number McKinnie agreed to, according to George.
A Tuesday evening report from The Sun said McKinnie will earn $2.2 million in base pay.
Harbaugh offered no explanation why the Ravens were seeking to clear cap room or why they only approached McKinnie about his contract on Monday, instead choosing to focus on the upcoming season with the tackle in tow.
“He’s been a part of us,” Harbaugh said. “He never left us. I’m excited about Bryant, always have been. Like I told him, I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a football player. [I] love his style of play, and we’re going to be strong up front. We are going to have a strong offensive line, and he’s a big part of that.”
If the Ravens had released McKinnie and he had not signed with another team until after Week 1, the veteran’s contract would not have been guaranteed for the duration of the season. However, George downplayed that reality as a factor in McKinnie ultimately deciding to play for less to remain in Baltimore, expressing confidence that his client would have found work quickly or been awarded a signing bonus to make up for the lack of a guaranteed base salary.
“[Signing was] not because it’s secure; it’s because he wanted to play for the Ravens,” said George, who added how much he admired the organization. “In my humble opinion, they’re a much stronger team with Bryant McKinnie. They obviously feel that way, too.”
After McKinnie reacted publicly on Twitter about what he assumed to be his imminent release, many wonder whether the strained relationship will linger into the start of the regular season, but Harbaugh dismissed that notion, pointing to the left tackle’s professionalism and work ethic.
The first test will come against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night, with McKinnie expected to line up as the starting left tackle. Harbaugh said McKinnie’s focus will be on that task from this point forward.
“Our expectation is that guys come out and practice hard, practice fast, give us their best,” Harbaugh said. “And he’s always done that. He continues to work his way back to that Pro Bowl form that he and I agreed that’s our goal for him. We talked about that as far back as last winter. He’s working his way back in that direction.”
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