The Ravens signed veteran right tackle Morgan Moses last month as one of their notable acquisitions of the offseason, but at the team’s annual predraft luncheon on April 5, general manager Eric DeCosta suggested the team isn’t done addressing the tackle position. Based on how last season unfolded, that seems prudent.
In theory, the Ravens will enter Week 1 this coming season with All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Moses as bookends of a revamped, improved offensive line. But the Ravens can ill afford to miscalculate — again — on Stanley’s recovery from his 2020 ankle injury, and they expect to have a contingency plan in place thanks to a draft class that DeCosta characterized as “very, very deep” at tackle.
After quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract status, Stanley’s health has been one of the top offseason topics, and it came up again early in the predraft news conference.
Echoing his statements from earlier this offseason, DeCosta said, “We’re not sure how Ronnie is going to rebound. We’re optimistic. … We feel like he’s on a good pace to come back.”
That’s what they thought last August, too, and it proved to be a disastrous miscalculation. With the expectation that Stanley would be back to his All-Pro form, the team traded disgruntled tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs and replaced him with veteran Alejandro Villanueva.
It quickly became apparent, though, that Stanley was not ready when the 2021 season began. He struggled badly in the season opener at Las Vegas, was promptly shut down and had another operation on his ankle, which had originally been hurt just two days after he signed a five-year, $98 million contract extension.
Villanueva replaced Stanley at left tackle, and with few other good options, utility lineman Patrick Mekari became the starter at right tackle. Villanueva struggled at times, especially against speed rushers, and the Ravens yielded 57 sacks, the most in franchise history.
At his season-ending news conference, DeCosta said improving the offensive line would be a top priority, and he said it was “probably my mistake … expecting that Ronnie would come back this year full strength.”
“Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case,” DeCosta said. “There’s probably a lot of blame to go around. … My understanding and belief was that Ronnie would come back [in 2021] and play really good football for us, be healthy, be strong, and be ready to go, and he wasn’t. That was a big setback.”
Villanueva has since retired, and the Ravens signed Moses to a three-year, $15 million deal to replace him. Mekari is a leading candidate to move to center after the departure of Bradley Bozeman, leaving few options at left tackle if Stanley isn’t ready.
Ja’Wuan James, who was signed by the Ravens last summer coming off an Achilles tear, has started 65 career games, including seven at left tackle. But James, who turns 30 in June, missed all of last season recovering from his Achilles injury and has played just three games in the past three years.
DeCosta has been known to throw up smokescreens and obfuscations at the predraft news conference, and he has acknowledged that the informal nickname for the event, “the Liars’ Luncheon,” is appropriate. But he was probably being honest when he suggested the team would draft a tackle.
As of now, the Ravens have 10 picks, including nine in the first four rounds.
The Ravens are set to pick at No. 14 overall, and several tackles could be taken in the top 10. Then again, DeCosta predicted there could be a run on edge rushers early in the draft, and that could leave tackles such as Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning and Mississippi State’s Charles Cross on the board longer.
The Ravens also could also look at tackles on Day Two or Day Three in the draft.
“We feel that there’s an opportunity in the draft to address the tackle spot at some point, whether it’s in the first round or in the fourth round,” DeCosta said. “There are good players all throughout this year. It’s a very, very deep position class. So there are a lot of different ways for us to skin the cat, and we’ll do that at some point.”
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