Monday, January 27, 2014

Bigger & Stronger

I feel compelled to do something that I don't really want to do, which is to defend Gino Gradkowski.  It's not that I think he is a good center.  He probably isn't, and most likely never will be.  In fact, all the signs were there to suggest it was a mistake for the Ravens to draft him.  Hmm, this probably doesn't sound like the opening statement of a defense of Gradkowski, but I'm building to that.

Still, despite Gino's obvious shortcomings, at some point people started making peculiar claims about him that were...well...kind of bullshit.  For some reason I keep seeing people trying to describe Gino's failures as a product of his being "undersized" or "not strong enough".  I assume that most of the people making these claims are driving Hummers to their local Sam's Club, while sucking down a Big Gulp.  Bigger isn't necessarily better, though this desire for sheer bulk seems to also be invading the minds of people who should be more sophisticated than your average internet commentators.

"We've got to get bigger in the interior of our offensive line.  That's one of the areas that I think we need to improve on."- Ozzie Newsome, at the 2014 'State of the Ravens' press conference.

While Ozzie doesn't specifically mention Gradkowski in this comment, it doesn't take a detective to figure out that the team is probably a bit concerned with how he performed last year.  Still, you have to wonder if throwing bulk at the problem will really get you the result you desire.  The Steelers have been infatuated with drafting Texas-sized offensive linemen for the last few years, and the results of this pursuit have been fairly poor.

There is also the nagging problem that referring to Gradkowski as "undersized" is probably just untrue.  Just for the hell of it, let's compare Gino to 32 other players who started a significant number of games at the center position in the 2013 season, based on how they measured up at the NFL Combine.

 Height (in inches)     Weight    Bench Press
Gino Gradkowski 74.6 300 29
Average of 32 Starting Centers 75.2 303.8 28.6

Yes, Gradkowski was a whopping 0.6 inches shorter than the average center in 2013, and a ridiculous 3.8 pounds lighter.  It's amazing that he managed to survive at all, being so helplessly undersized.  While his height makes him the 10th shortest starting center, only 9 centers (28.12%) were more than an inch taller than Gradkowski.  Similarly, as the twelfth lightest center, only 14 centers (43.75%) weighed at least 5 pounds more than Gradkowski.  The only reason I also threw in their bench press results is because of the "he isn't strong enough" argument, though this is sort of an odd issue, since I don't personally believe the bench press really matters that much, or says a lot about a player's strength.  Still, some people seem to place value in that trait, so I thought I would just toss it in there to once again show that he was also within the average range there too.

Of course, the argument could be made that this is only comparing Gradkowski to league-wide averages, and that we should really compare him to the more accomplished and celebrated centers in the league.  Okay, we can do that too.  This time we will only include players who have been selected to All-Pro/Pro Bowl teams, or have had rather long and productive careers as centers.

Player  Height (in inches)     Weight    Bench Press   HT Diff.  WT Diff.
Gino Gradkowski 74.6 300 29

Mike Pouncey 77 303 24 2.4 3
Nick Mangold 75.5 300 24 0.9 0
Maurkice Pouncey 76.4 304 25 1.8 4
Alex Mack 75.7 307 20 1.1 7
Chris Myers 76.5 300 25 1.9 0
Brad Meester 75.3 298 25 0.7 -2
Manny Ramirez 75 326 40 0.4 26
Nick Hardwick 75.4 295 27 0.8 -5
Jason Kelce 74.5 280                  N/A -0.1 -20
Ryan Kalil 74.6 299 34 0 -1
Roberto Garza 74.1 303 37 -0.5 3
John Sullivan 75.4 301 21 0.8 1
Dominic Raiola 74 307 29 -0.6 7
Max Unger 76.5 309 22 1.9 9
Scott Wells 73.7 300 31 -0.9 0
Jonathan Goodwin 75.2 318                  N/A 0.6 18
AVERAGE 75.3 303.1 27.4

MEDIAN 75.35 302 25

Even amongst this rather select group of 16 centers, only 4 (25%) are more than one inch taller than Gradkowski, and only 5 (31.25%) are more than 5 pounds heavier than him.  In fact, only Manny Ramirez and Jonathan Goodwin appear to be significantly bulkier than the average, with a weight difference relative to Gradkowski of 26 and 18 pounds respectively.  While Gradkowski may indeed suck, trying to explain his issues as merely a matter of insufficient mass seems a bit overly simplistic.

Instead, let's consider another possibility.  The Ravens selected a short-armed center (31.75"), from a lower level college football program (Delaware), who had rather poor physical measurables (-0.509 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.034 Agility Score).  If you just want power, I would look to the Kangaroo Score, as I think it is an adequate predictor of such things.  More importantly, I would look to Gino's short shuttle time of 4.78 seconds, which is -0.164 standard deviations below average for an offensive lineman, and possibly the most important drill for prospective centers.  You can click here, if you crave some extensive and deranged ranting about short shuttle times and centers.  Basically, Gino Gradkowski was 5 pounds of talent in a 10 pound sack, but it wasn't his physical size that was the most likely limiting factor.

In some ways, this reminds me of the situation with Danny Watkins, though I suppose the similarities might not be obvious.  Watkins was a guard for the Eagles, selected with the 23rd overall pick in 2011.  When he was released from the team, in 2013, the Eagles' GM Howie Roseman questioned what had happened to Watkins' "innate toughness", and suggested that Watkins failed due to the pressure of being a 1st round pick, rather than admit that:

A.) Drafting a 26 year old in the first round is just a bad idea
B.) Taking this gamble for a less valuable position, such as a guard, is an even worse idea
C.) While Watkins demonstrated moderately above average agility (0.605 Agility Score), expecting him to be a powerful "enforcer" with a cripplingly low -1.306 Kangaroo Score, was a bit insane.

So, rather than just admit that the team had incorrectly evaluated Watkins' abilities, they instead suggested that Watkins failed to live up to the vast potential that they saw in him.  Potential that certainly must still exist.  They had seen it.  Therefore, it was somehow Watkins' fault, for being too psychologically frail to become the player that the team was confident Watkins was capable of becoming.   

Every draft pick is a calculated risk, but occasionally the writing is on the wall that teams are pursuing fairly outlandish hunches.  Do Gradkowski and Watkins suck?  Probably.  Should they be derided and labelled as busts?  Probably not.  They are what they are, and it isn't their fault that unreasonable expectations were placed on them.  Instead, you might as well turn your jeering attention to the men who selected them, and ask upon what evidence they based their belief in these players.  And pray.  Pray with all you heart, that when these fallible men (fallible like us all) try to correct their mistakes, they don't simply say,"We need to get bigger."

Or, perhaps these comments about size are just innocuous statements, which I shouldn't pay so much attention to.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not Quite "Free" Agents

Thank god, all of those pointless football games are done with, and we can now focus on the one part of the NFL season that is actually interesting.  It's time to start mindlessly flinging cash around for over-priced free agents, and speculating about college kids who will most likely end up disappointing us.  It's the most wonderful time...oh, it's the most wonderful's the most wonderful time of the year!

There seems to be a perpetual debate between some people's frenzy for quick free agent solutions, and the opposing crowd, that feels that teams need to build through the draft.  While I love the draft, I really don't have a problem with signing free agents, as long as it is done rather cheaply.  Free agency gets a bad rap because of legendarily stupid signings (Hello, Dan Snyder!) for high priced players, who often can't perform at the superhuman levels that would be required to justify their price tags.  Still, there will be some players available at a halfway reasonable price, who I think might be able to outperform their contracts, or have small enough signing bonuses, so that potential 'dead money' hits should be of minimal concern even if they do end up as disappointments.

If there is one potential free agent who I am really salivating over, it would be the Raiders' left tackle Jared Veldheer.  For some reason, a lot of sites seem to be ranking him below a number of other free agent tackles, that I find much less interesting, and I have to wonder how much of this is due to the low opinion that many people have of the Raiders.  Personally, I think he is one of the top young OTs in the NFL, and has vast potential to get even better.  Unfortunately, the Raiders are going to have so much cap space, it seems remarkably unlikely that they will ever let him go.  Even if he was available, I have to suspect that he will end up getting an obscene contract that would be out of the Ravens' price range.

It's possible that I shouldn't put right tackle Rodger Saffold on this list, since I'm not sure how cheap he would be to sign, but as long as the Ravens are contemplating re-signing Eugene Monroe, I feel I should point to someone who I think is potentially a bit better.  While Saffold has moved around from LT to RT to G, then briefly back to LT, I think he could probably play any position on the line better than any current Ravens' player, with the possible exception of Marshal Yanda.  Still, I think this same versatility might hurt him in negotiating a new contract, as people might be unclear as to what position to play him at.  I wouldn't be surprised if he signs a contract in the area of $4-5 million/ year, which I suspect will be less that what Monroe will cost.  His value here is also being driven down by the number of games he has missed due to injury in the last few years (17 games missed in last 3 years).  In the last 4 years Saffold has averaged 0.363 sacks allowed per game started, compared to Monroe's 0.440.  The differences in where they line up really doesn't entirely justify these differences either, as the average number of sacks surrendered by right tackles, is virtually the same as the number given up by left tackles.  In his last two seasons, however, Saffold has only allowed 0.113 sacks per game started, which is excellent.  In the same 2 year time span, Monroe was at 0.338 sacks per game started.  Saffold's athletic measurables also suggest a higher likelihood of maintaining/improving his current level of play, with a 0.918 Kangaroo Score, and a 0.819 Agility Score, compared to Monroe's more pedestrian 0.340 Kangaroo Score and -0.253 Agility Score.  If the Ravens are going to insist on throwing money at a tackle, I would prefer that Saffold be the recipient since I think he is the most likely to continue to improve. 

If there is one area in which the Cardinals do fairly well, it is in their drafting of wide receivers.  So, why not poach Andre Roberts?  For the last 4 years he has been an emerging talent, who only started to stumble a bit statistically in 2013, with Michael Floyd taking more of the targets in the passing game, while Roberts served as the third receiver.  I still think there's a lot of upside here, and the computer considered him one of the top 5 receiver prospects in the 2010 draft.  We can't change our minds now, can we?  He's never going to be Calvin Johnson, but serving as a smaller secondary target, he could bring something different to the Ravens' offense.  He'll be 26 at the start of the 2014 season, and I don't expect anyone to offer more than $3 million/year for his services, so it would be a rather low risk acquisition that might have some serious upside.

I have no idea what Chiefs' guard, Jon Asamoah, is going to attract as far as contract offers are concerned, but for the right price I would be interested.  In the last 3 years his number of sacks allowed per game started has steadily improved, and he doesn't seem to commit many penalties.  His combine measurables are in line with what we would hope to see for a guard, with a very average Kangaroo Score of -0.062, and an excellent Agility Score of 0.963.  This just helps to calm any concerns I might have of how his skills would translate to a different team.  In the last three years, Asamoah has allowed 0.162 sacks per game started, which is a better than average result.  Honestly, I think Asamoah will end up getting offered significantly more than I would be willing to spend, as I would probably draw the line at $4 million/year.  Still, a team might as well bid up his price, even if they can't acquire him, just to screw with an opponent's salary cap..

This particular player is no longer relevant, except for offering some perspective on where my thinking was directed prior to January 10th.  Just to have as many offensive linemen options as possible I'd take a look at Bears's guard Matt Slauson.  This 2009 6th round draft pick had a 1.337 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.425 Agility Score, which is somewhat peculiar, since guards don't tend to have these kinds of exceptional Kangaroo Scores.  It might seem pointless to continue focusing on a player's combine measurables, even after they are supposedly known quantities as NFL players, but I think it helps to explain why a player is doing well, and gives a higher likelihood of their performance carrying over to a new team.  In the last 3 years, Slauson's results in terms of sacks allowed per game started, have ranged from the exceptional (0 allowed in 2012) to the slightly above average (0.156 allowed/GS in 2011 and 2013).  The Ravens may not think that a guard should be a priority, but at this point I would take any offensive linemen with decent potential.  I would throw out similar offers to Slauson and Asamoah, and just see who was willing to sign for the least.  Re-signed with Bears for average of $3.2 million/year.  So, I would applaud that contract.

Unless the Bengals assign a 1st or 2nd round free agent tender to RFA linebacker Vincent Rey (there's a strong possibility they will do just that), a team could attempt to sign him without losing any draft picks.  More than would probably make sense to most people, I would really like to see another team acquire Rey, because I find his potential to be incredibly intriguing, and would prefer that he isn't wasted on the bench.  In 2013, Rey had 57 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defended, and 2 interceptions, despite only starting in 3 games.  While he went undrafted in 2010, the computer felt this was a mistake, and that his physical traits and statistical production in college suggested he was a more valuable draft prospect.  He'll only be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and seems to be a fairly versatile player.  Even with his recent strong performances, I think teams are likely to undervalue him, since doing the opposite would mean acknowledging the possibility that they misjudged him back in 2010.  Teams will probably want to see another year's worth of performance before changing their minds about Rey.  I would try to swoop in now with a an offer of up to $2 million/year.  If I had to bet, I think a team wouldn't even need to go that high with their offer.  This might seem overly generous for a somewhat unproven player, but I don't think there is much risk in it.  This would lock him up through the prime years of his career, and the signing bonus could probably be fairly minimal.  This is a slight gamble, but if he continues to perform the way he did in limited playing time, which I believe he could, his price could skyrocket.  If you're not willing to occasionally gamble on a hunch like this, then you are stuck paying exorbitant prices for more 'proven' players.  Sadly, I think the Bengals will assign a 1st or 2nd round tender here, and Rey will squander most of the 2014 season on the bench..

I'm not quite sure what the Ravens are going to do about resigning Daryl Smith, but I would keep Chargers' linebacker Donald Butler on the radar as an option.  Butler has the advantage of only being 26 years old at the start of the 2014 season, but has missed some games the last two years with injuries.  It all comes down to who would take the least amount of money.  I still prefer Vincent Rey over either of these other two options, since I think he will be the cheapest to sign, with the greatest likelihood of outperforming his contract.  Most likely, Butler won't sign as cheaply as the aging Smith or the peculiar Rey, but you're better off having additional people to negotiate with.

While I would love to see Hakeem Nicks or Jeremy Maclin wind up in Baltimore, I don't see how the team will be able to afford either one of them, even with their injury histories suppressing their price tag.  So, instead I will turn my eye to Kenny Britt.  Yes, he may be a moron off of the field, but he was one of the computer's favorite receivers in the 2009 draft, and I think has actually done reasonably well when he isn't being suspended or getting benched for being an idiot.  He's averaged almost 43 yards per game played, throughout his career, which is slightly above average, and this would work out to 688 yards in a 16 game season.  Obviously, I'm mainly interested because I think he can be had dirt cheap, and if he screws up, you can just cut him.

Now, I'll toss in a couple of players who I think will be truly dirt cheap. These players would only be intended to provide depth, with the possibility that they might still have some untapped upside.

Louis Nzegwu is a bit of an oddball. Since he only averaged 7.25 tackles for a loss in his final two years at Wisconsin, we only viewed him as a late round prospect in the 2012 Draft, but one with intriguing physical potential.  His 1.575 Kangaroo Score along with a 0.856 Agility Score are exceptional results for a 6'4" 252# player.  In two 2013 preseason games, he accumulated 3 sacks, which were the first glimpses we saw of his pass rushing potential in action.  Nobody seems to be interested in developing him as a player, and he should cost nothing.  At one point in time NFL teams felt the same way about Cameron Wake, who similarly had shown little as a pass rusher in college, but also possessed physical traits that suggested he was worth keeping an eye on.  Who knows whether history could repeat itself here?  Ideally we would like to see him tried as a 3-4 OLB.

I have had a strange fascination with outside linebacker Frank Zombo for the past couple years, and it isn't just because of his brilliant website.  I have rarely gotten to see him play, since he has almost always been used as just a backup, but his 0.483 Kangaroo Score and 0.358 Agility Score suggest he has pretty good physical potential.  I'm not saying that there is anything mind-blowing about those results, but they are respectable.  That combined with his 12.75 Avg TFLs in college would have made him a late 6th to early 7th round prospect for us, though he obviously went undrafted.  He will be 27 at the start of the 2014 season, and whether there is any real upside to him is debatable, but he should at the very least provide good depth.  In limited playing time, he has managed to show some flashes as a pass rusher, with 7 career sacks, despite only starting in 14 games.  Considering he was only paid $640k in 2013, and people probably haven't changed their views on him to drastically, I would doubt that there will be much of a spending frenzy here.  He strikes me as a nice and cheap acquisition to provide depth.

Since he has almost never gotten any real opportunity to play, Bengals cornerback Brandon Ghee probably won't get much attention in free agency.  Going back to the 2010 Draft, he is listed as a 5' 11" and 192 pound corner, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash (with a 0.15 2nd Gear Score).  He also had a 0.737 Agility Score.  So, he is an average sized corner with excellent speed, and pretty good agility.  The problem, from the computer's perspective, was that he didn't get his hands on the ball very much while playing at Wake Forest, with only 1 interception throughout his college career, and only about 8 passes defended per year.  Still, I think he has the athletic ability to at the very least compete for a 3rd or 4th cornerback spot, and will only be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season. 

I think it is probably fair to say that Buccaneers' DE/OLB Daniel Te'o-Nesheim hasn't set the world on fire with his play.  The question for me is whether he would do better in a 3-4 defense.  As a draft prospect, in 2010, he was intriguing to us because of his impressive athletic ability (1.071 Kangaroo Score, and a 1.109 Agility Score).  Unfortunately, or perhaps not, the 12.75 TFLs that he averaged in his last two years in college, meant that he only merited a 4th round grade according to our system, while the Eagles selected him in the 3rd round.  It is entirely possible that he will never live up to his physical potential, but before we give up on him completely, I'd be curious to see what he can do in a 3-4.  Perhaps getting off of the line, and using his abilities in space, would resuscitate his career.  He will be 27 years old at the start of the 2014 season.  Either way, it wouldn't cost much to find out, probably near the veteran minimum $730k.

For a truly weird acquisition, I think it would also be interesting to take a look at Wade Jacobson, who is currently an offensive tackle for....hmmm....nobody.  Athletically, this 2013 prospect from Washington State, is a marvel.  His 1.788 Kangaroo Score, and 1.407 Agility Score, are just shocking and actually surpass Lane Johnson's numbers.  Still, he went undrafted, and only stuck around for a brief time in the Redskins' training camp last year.  If I thought that NFL teams knew what they were doing I would be more concerned about this, but I don't see any reason to take his dismissal too seriously.  He did have some problems with a back injury in college, and I have no idea if that is a lingering issue.  It is entirely possible that there are issues here that I am unaware of, but his physical potential seems to be pretty remarkable, and since he would cost nothing to bring into a training camp, I would give him a shot.  Players with this kind of physical ability generally don't fail, so I would love to see if there is some potential here.

Finally, I have some minor interest in another Buccaneers' scrub, linebacker Dekoda Watson.  In many was he is a shrunken down clone of the previously mentioned Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, with a 1.075 Kangaroo Score, and a 1.014 Agility Score, but he only weighs about 240 pounds.  At this weight, he would probably be limited to providing depth at the ILB position for the Ravens.  He will be 26 years old at the start of the 2014 season, and I would be willing to pay him 2, or perhaps 3, ham sandwiches for his services.  This would purely be a salvage project.

Perhaps the most exciting move this off-season will be the eventual departure of Terrence "Mole-hill" Cody.  There is definitely something to be said for addition by subtraction in this case, and Cody's departure would allow Brandon Williams (who I like as a prospect) to get more playing time.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Price For A Left Tackle

Do you remember when the Ravens dumped obscene amounts of cash on Joe Flacco's head, largely because of a post-season run that was far above his usual level of play?  The thinking, at the time, seemed to be 'you can't win without a top QB, so you have to pay him'.  The possibility of drawing a line, above which the team would not go, as far as salary, was apparently unthinkable.  Well, they seem to be ready to take a similar, if slightly less insane, approach towards resigning Eugene Monroe, and I'm really not sure if this is going to turn out to be a much better decision (it isn't that I don't respect Flacco, but rather just my discomfort with the contract he received, and the long term consequences of it).

To start things off, let's take a look at the average yearly salaries of all NFL left tackles, who are starters, excluding players who are operating under rookie contracts.

Player Team  Salary (in millions)
Ryan Clady Broncos 10.5
Jason Peters Eagles 10.1
Joe Thomas Browns 10.06
Brandon Albert Chiefs 9.82
Jordan Gross Panthers 9.4
D'Brickashaw Ferguson Jets 9.2
Jake Long Rams 8.5
Duane Brown Texans 8.028
William Beatty Giants 7.5
Jermon Bushrod Bears 7.193
Michael Roos Titans 7.166
Donald Penn Buccaneers 6.95
Sam Baker Falcons 6.8
Andrew Whitworth Bengals 6.2
Joe Staley 49ers 4.686
Bryant McKinnie Dolphins 3.15


Starting with the average salary of $7.828 million dollars per year, we probably need to make a couple of corrections to get a better idea of what the likely starting point for negotiations will be.  First of all, Bryant McKinnie is operating under an 'acquired from the scrap heap' type of contract.  Joe Staley, on the other hand, has performed quite well, but is working under a contract extension he signed in 2009, before the start of his third NFL season, and is obviously playing for well below his market value.  If both of these contracts were removed from our calculation, the average salary for a veteran starting left tackle would jump to $8.386 million per year.  Of course, a number of these other players signed their contracts several years ago, so this also doesn't reflect the annual inflation that you tend to see with new contracts, where everybody expects to be paid more than the last guy who signed an extension, regardless of whether they are actually any better than anybody else at their position. 

There seems to be a lot of speculation amongst Ravens' fans, that Eugene Monroe will give the team a break on his salary demands, and settle for something in the $6.5 million range.  Most of this idle chatter seems to revolve around some assumed gratitude he would feel for being freed from the Jaguars' franchise.  Such ideas strike me as a bit goofy, but feel free to run with that if you wish to.  It's certainly possible that he could sign a reasonably priced contract, but he does have the Ravens somewhat over a barrel since they are probably a bit desperate right now to fill one of their tackle slots.  Of course, if he didn't choose to be so generous, the team could consider using the franchise tag on him, which for offensive linemen in 2014 is projected to be $11.126 million.  Considering that the Ravens are only expected to have about $13.9 million in cap space (with only 37 players under contract) that wouldn't appear to be a reasonable option.  So, in the end, I suspect the Ravens will end up offering him $7.5 - 8.5 million per year, which is basically in line with the average salary for his peers.

What about all of the other left tackles, who are currently playing under rookie contracts?  Well, their average yearly salary would be about $2.997 million per year, though a number of these contracts were drawn up before the newest CBA agreement with the Player's Association, which significantly reduced the cost of rookie contracts.  With the Ravens drafting at either the 16th or 17th slot in the 2014 Draft, an offensive lineman would probably cost them about $2.1 million per year, if selected in the first round, based on last years rookie contracts.

What Monroe probably deserves to be paid, is a very different question.  So, let's examine this in bite sized pieces of highly dubious analysis.

First of all, as far as I can tell, the average starting left tackle will give up about 0.4 sacks per game started.  An exceptional year for a left tackle would be a result of around 0.2 sacks per games started, while a result of 0.6 sack per game started might spell the end of your career as a starter.  For the 2013 season, the average result seemed to dip slightly lower, to around 0.420 sacks per game started (based on data from STATS.COM), and a median result of 0.403 sacks per game started.  So, 2013 was a fairly typical year, as far as these averages go.  My data for this only goes back about five years, so I might reevaluate all of this at a later time.

Of course, every player has their good years and their bad years.  To some extent, you have to make allowances for some of the player's surrounding talent, injuries, and the type of QB they are protecting.  Nonetheless, I will say that Eugene Monroe allowed precisely 0.433 sacks per game started in 2014, an incredibly average result.  If someone wants to point to issues that excuse this average result, that is fine.  There is a lot of room to debate these numbers.  My only concern here is that this has been a fairly good year by Monroe's standards, since he has typically averaged 0.479 sacks per game started over the prior 4 seasons, with only his 2012 result of 0.250 being a significant positive deviation from his career averages.  I also have to wonder if his 2013 results might actually be skewed in his favor, due to the failures of the other players on the line.  After all, you can only give up one sack on a given play, and Michael Oher and Gino Gradkowski seemed to be competing for that honor.  You don't need to be great, you just need to hold your block longer than the guys who are next to you, in order to look good by comparison.

Since at lot of my hunches about draft prospects are strongly based on how they did at the combine, I will say that these are the kinds of results we were sort of expecting for Monroe.  As I said a few months ago, in this post, his measurable data suggested that he was just an average to slightly above average prospect.  I'm not trying to suggest that he can't exceed my expectations, merely that he so far hasn't done much to do so.  So, to some extent, I would be concerned about him maintaining a rather flat trajectory when it comes to his potential for improvement.  After five years, I would have hoped to see steadier and more significant progress, if I was going to throw large amounts of money at him.

To some extent, I think the interest in resigning Monroe relates to three matters of bias and perception.  First, is the idea that he may have been the best offensive lineman for the Ravens this year, which is possibly true.  This still doesn't necessarily make him a great talent, as it seems just as plausible to me that the rest of the line was garbage.  Secondly, there is the sense of relief at having someone replace Bryant McKinnie, who appeared to be more interested in chasing strippers than in his blocking duties.  Who am I to judge Bryant for this?  They are called gentleman's clubs for a reason, so I have to assume that Bryant is a classy guy.  Thirdly, I think players like Monroe continue to get the benefit of the doubt because of their status as former 1st round picks.  However you look at these issues, is your own business.  Instead, let's just look at the impact that he had on different aspects of the offense this year.

In the passing game:

Weeks  Pass Att/Sacks         YPA         Pass Rat.
With McKinnie 1 to 5 14.35 6.76 70.07
With Monroe 6 to 17 12.14 6.17 74.64

As I mentioned a while back, Flacco has generally gotten sacked at a pretty steady rate throughout his career, generally around once every 13-17 pass attempts, which is a rather poor to average result.  Clearly, 2013 was a particularly rough year for Flacco, but the odd thing is he was actually getting sacked more frequently after the switch to Monroe in week 6.  His yards per pass attempt also fell slightly, as you would expect of someone under increased pressure to get rid of the ball quickly.  On the other hand, his passer rating did go up slightly.  Some people might point to the loss of guard Kelechi Osemele, who was lost after week 7, as a contributing factor but I can't really see much reason to justify that argument.  Digging into the question of whether Osemele really presents a strong reason to be optimistic about the future, would be opening a whole other can of worms, though I'm probably not as enthusiastic about his future as many Ravens' fans are.  However you look at this, it is hard to argue that there was a significant statistical improvement from week 6 to the end of the season.

In the running game:

      Yards          Att.         Avg.         TDs
Total 1096 366 2.994 6
With McKinnie 360 124 2.903 5
With Monroe 736 242 3.041 1

These numbers for the Ravens' running game are only the combined results of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce's rushing attempts, as I thought throwing in the odd scrambles by QB Tyrod Taylor, or whomever else, weren't too useful, and might add confusion.  While the average rushing attempt did go for a slightly longer gain (0.138 yards further, or 4.968 inches to make this look even more depressing) when Monroe took over, the end result really wasn't much different.  The additional fact that the Ravens only scored one rushing touchdown (excluding one Flacco rushing TD) in the last 11 games, should also be seen as a bit horrifying.

I wouldn't say that any of the Ravens' struggles were really Monroe's fault.  All I can say is that from the time he arrived, I haven't really seen any significant improvement, statistical or otherwise, from the team.  You would tend to think that a player who is poised to potentially get payed a significant amount of money would have had some measurable impact.  I realize that people could point to the rest of the o-line, as being the true culprits for the team's failures, but why would you pay one player while admitting that they will probably accomplish very little unless the other players are upgraded too?  Monroe may very well be a capable left tackle, but exceptional?  I'm not so sure about that.  I'm even less sure that a cap strapped team like the Ravens should be tying up significant amounts of their payroll on someone who appears the be at best decent or average, when they could probably get someone of comparable ability for between a quarter to a third of the cost in the draft, or through clever exploration of the bowels of free agency.  Of course, that depends on how confident you are in the Ravens' approach to drafting offensive linemen, a subject about which I have some additional concerns.

In the end, I think Monroe is possibly worth about $4-5 million/year, but this doesn't fit within the structure of contemporary NFL contracts, where at least one team can always be counted on to overspend based on their feelings of desperation.  An offer such as the one I have proposed would almost certainly be laughed at by Monroe's agent, and justifiably so.  I am certain that some team will pay Monroe significantly more than what I have suggested.  Still, that is where I would probably draw the line, and if he winds up somewhere else, I would content myself with the inevitable 3rd or 4th round compensatory pick that the team would likely receive for his loss.  Personally, I think a player should only be signed to a contract that they are likely to outperform, but this clearly isn't a popular view.  For now, we'll just have to wait and see how this all plays out.