Members of the Ravens brass have presented a lukewarm attitude regarding incumbent left tackle Eugene Monroe throughout the offseason, but Steve Bisciotti took a different approach speaking at the league meetings on Tuesday.
And while much could change between now and the start of the season, the Baltimore owner sure made it sound like the man who’s been limited to just 16 starts over the last two years will again be entrusted to protect Joe Flacco’s blind side this fall. Monroe is scheduled to enter the third season of a five-year, $37.5 million contract and would carry an $8.7 million salary cap figure for 2016.
“He is our left tackle going into next year,” Bisciotti told The Sun in Boca Raton, Fla. on Tuesday. “It’s like [third-year wide receiver Michael] Campanaro. We think the world of him. But you have to know what you get out of the guy, and Eugene has been a pretty durable player these last couple years. But nobody works out harder than he does.
“I just feel bad. I think a lot of the speculation about us moving on from him clearly comes down to the fact that he’s been hurt a lot, because he’s played pretty well when he’s been in there. We’ve always been happy with him when he’s on the field.”
Bisciotti’s comments were a contrast from those made by coach John Harbaugh earlier in the day, who was asked about Monroe and said he anticipated a competition that would include right tackle Rick Wagner and reserves James Hurst and De’Ondre Wesley. Perhaps this is the Ravens’ version of “good cop, bad cop” in trying to motivate their left tackle for 2016.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Wagner enters his third season as the projected starting right tackle. The Wisconsin product played at a very high level in 2014 before a Lisfranc injury cut his season short. He started all 16 games last year, but it was apparent that he was still feeling the effects of foot surgery as he finished 49th among qualifying offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.
Meanwhile, Hurst started 11 games in Monroe’s place and graded 74th among 77 tackles, according to PFF. It was Hurst who was pushed into Flacco’s left knee, causing tears to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments of the franchise quarterback last November. Even if the Ravens elect to go with Monroe for another season, upgrading the backup left tackle spot is a crucial need.
“I don’t have any doubt that all those tackles can play both sides,” Harbaugh said. “In some ways, the NFL has changed a little bit where it’s not just left-tackle oriented like it used to be maybe 10, 15 years ago. It used to be a little more left-tackle oriented because of the way the protections were organized. Now, you can move that around a little bit.
“The blind side still is important. The quarterback doesn’t see that tackle getting beat when he’s one-on-one, so it still has value. But there are ways to protect both tackles. It’s going to be a competition with those guys and whoever else we add.”
It’s predictable for Harbaugh to speak with confidence about players currently on the roster, but envisioning any of the aforementioned names seriously challenging Monroe’s ability is a stretch. Wagner played left tackle in college, but it’s fair to doubt whether he has the quickness to be a serious candidate on the left side. As Bisciotti correctly noted, Monroe has performed well when he’s been on the field, but his lack of durability over the last two years is a major concern.
The tone of Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome might be a better reflection of how the organization feels about Monroe, but there should be no rush to part ways with him before a real replacement is added through free agency, trade, or the draft. Cutting Monroe now would clear just $2.1 million in cap space and would leave $6.6 million in dead money, making a post-June 1 release more of a possibility.
Even if Bisciotti’s thoughts can be taken at face value and Monroe is destined to return as the starting left tackle, Harbaugh clearly stated the organization’s position on the offensive lineman’s commentary on medical marijuana that has garnered much attention over the last couple weeks.
“Those are his comments,” Harbaugh said. “What’s the disclaimer? ‘He does not speak for the network.’ I promise you he does not speak for the organization.”