It's clear that coming off a 5-11 season, the Ravens have some tough decisions to make regarding their 2016 roster. To be sure, injuries were a huge part of the story this past season, but there figures to be significant roster turnover after one of the worst seasons in team history. And as always, the salary cap figures to have a major influence on how the Ravens go about constructing their 2016 roster.
Over the next two weeks, we'll be examining each Ravens position group with an eye toward 2016. Who stays? Who goes? We'll begin with the offensive line. (Note: For the purpose of this discussion, we will limit the roster to just those players on the final 53-man roster and injured reserve.)
First, for a bit of terminology:
Unrestricted free agents are no longer under contract and are free to sign with any team when the new league year begins March 9.
Restricted free agents are players whose contracts have expired but they have at least three years of service time. The Ravens can tender a restricted free agent at one of three levels -- 1st round, 2nd round or low tender. Another team can then sign a Ravens restricted free agent to an offer sheet, but the Ravens would reserve the right to match the offer and keep the player. If they choose not to do that, the Ravens would receive draft-pick compensation based on the tender assigned.
Exclusive-rights free agents have two or fewer years in the league. If the Ravens tender an offer, the player must accept it. He cannot negotiate with other teams unless the Ravens choose not to tender a contract.
Under contract: James Hurst, Eugene Monroe, John Urschel, Rick Wagner, Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah
Unrestricted free agents: Kelechi Osemele
Restricted free agents: None
Exclusive rights free agents: Ryan Jensen, De'Ondre Wesley
The left side of the offensive line is one huge question mark right now. Will the Ravens try to re-sign left guard Kelechi Osemele? Could they even afford it? And if so, would the Ravens cut ties with Eugene Monroe and move Osemele to left tackle? Osemele essentially auditioned there over the final month of the season.
Cutting Monroe would save the Ravens about $2.1 million against the cap, and he has frequently been mentioned as a possible cap casualty. But if the Ravens cut Monroe, they would have to eat more than $6 million in dead money -- and then still find a left tackle if Osemele takes the money and runs. Trading away Haloti Ngata and eating that dead money was more palatable knowing there were strong successors waiting along the defensive line. That isn't the case here if Osemele leaves; James Hurst did not show himself to be a viable left tackle starter.
The Ravens might just need to bank on the hope that Monroe, 29, can stay healthy and finally begin to live up to the five-year, $37.5 million deal he signed before the 2014 season. He simply hasn't been healthy enough to do it to this point, missing half of the Ravens 34 games over the past two years. The bet here is that Monroe stays and Osemele gets a big payday elsewhere.
The rest of the line should be strong with Jeremy Zuttah at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Rick Wagner at right tackle. John Urschel saw plenty of action at center with Zuttah hurt, and he could become the starter at left guard if Osemele leaves or moves to tackle.
However this line is configured, the Ravens need to improve their running game; that was expected to be a strength in 2015 but the Ravens ranked 24th in rushing yards per play (3.86).
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