By Aaron Wilson and Jeff Zrebiec The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — Fulfilling their top free agent priority, the Ravens on Tuesday agreed to a five-year deal with left tackle Eugene Monroe, the first step in an expected offensive line makeover.
Monroe, whom the Ravens acquired from the Jacksonville Jaguars in October for fourth- and fifth-round picks, was considered one of the top left tackles on the free-agent market. However, the Ravens were able to lock him up to a five-year, $37.5 million deal not long after the market opened at 4 p.m. EDT.
According to a source, the deal includes an $11 million signing bonus and $19 million in guarantee money. It averages $7.5 million per year.
“I’m excited, man,” Monroe said in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun. “Anytime you get to play at this level even for a short amount of time, it’s a blessing.
“It’s a win all-around in every aspect for me, proximity to my family in New Jersey and my wife and her side of her family, which is literally right here. You can’t beat it. That’s awesome. I’m definitely appreciative for the Ravens having faith in my ability to play at a high level. I’m looking forward to continuing to improve, so we can continue to win ballgames.”
The signing will allow the Ravens to turn their attention to filling their other needs, which includes fixing the rest of their offensive line. With Monroe in the fold, the Ravens now have a long-term answer on quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside but they still lack definitive solutions at two other spots along the offensive line.
Monroe, 26, will start at left tackle while three-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda is entrenched at right guard. Kelechi Osemele, who missed most of last season with a back injury that required surgery, will return and play either left guard or right tackle, depending on what other additions the Ravens make this offseason. So, the Ravens still need either a starting guard or tackle, and possibly a center to compete with Gino Gradkowski, who struggled last season in his first year as a starter.
But retaining Monroe, something that seemed unlikely late last week as the two sides remain far apart in the negotiations, is a an important first step. After he was acquired to replace Bryant McKinnie, Monroe started the Ravens’ final 11 regular-season games and aside from struggling to contain the Chicago Bears’ Julius Peppers, he was one of the few bright spots from the group.
“They’re still working on getting guys in and the organization has a history of bringing the right people in and winning football games,” Monroe said. “This last year being sort of odd not making the playoffs, but the tradition here is winning football. I’m confident that’s going to continue.”
A first-round pick out of the University of Virginia, Monroe has started 73 of 76 games in his five-year NFL career. Age, effectiveness and durability were reasons why many football pundits put him at the top of the free agent left tackle market.
However, other tackle-needy teams seemingly had their eyes on other options. The Miami Dolphins honed in on Kansas City Chiefs’ free agent Branden Albert, a Glen Burnie native. The Arizona Cardinals pursued the Oakland Raiders’ Jared Velheer, while the Raiders spent significant time talking to the St. Louis Rams’ Rodger Saffold. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were rumored to be adding the Cincinnati Bengals’ Anthony Collins.
The Ravens, meanwhile, kept in contact with Monroe’s representative and were able to close the gap over the past couple of days. The partnership fits for both sides.
The Ravens badly needed some stability on the offensive line, particularly on the blindside of their franchise quarterback. After being on losing Jacksonville teams for the first four-plus years of his NFL career, Monroe remains in a winning environment and in an area where his family is comfortable. Monroe’s wife is from Columbia.
“I was confident it would work out,” Monroe said. “I wasn’t concerned at all. I talked to Ozzie (Newsome) frequently through the year and he said, “We’ll make sure it works and be a great deal for both sides.’ And now it did and I’m very happy.”