Don't assume Gurode signing means Birk is out

The Ravens' projected offensive line entering training camp had Michael Oher at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Oniel Cousins or Jah Reid at right tackle.

When Baltimore opens the regular season on Sunday, their starting offensive line could very easily look like this: Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Grubbs at left guard, Andre Gurode at center, Yanda at right guard and Oher at right tackle.

Those are some pretty dramatic changes in about five weeks' time.

But just because the Ravens agreed to terms with five-time Pro Bowler Gurode yesterday, it doesn't necessarily mean that Birk won't be ready to play when the Steelers come to town Sunday.

Birk returned to practice last week after having knee surgery at the beginning of August, and while he didn't see action in any of the Ravens' four preseason games, he says his knee is progressing, and he plans on playing against Pittsburgh.

No one outside the organization truly knows just where Birk is health-wise right now. Some might assume that the Ravens giving Gurode a one-year deal worth up to $3 million is an indicator that the team will need the former Cowboy to start immediately.

I say not so fast.

Remember last year, when the Ravens gave Marc Bulger a one-year, $3.8 million deal to back up Joe Flacco? This could be a similar situation.

Birk played all last season on a bad knee, and needed to have fluid removed from the knee every week in order to suit up. He could make it through a full 16-game season, or he could not.

Just like the Ravens weren't fans of the idea of Troy Smith starting at quarterback if Flacco went down, they're probably not comfortable with the thought of Bryan Mattison, a converted defensive lineman, slotting in as the starting center if Birk was to have more knee issues. Mattison performed well under rough circumstances this preseason, but is he a starting-caliber player on a contending team? I don't think so.

Yes, I know the Gurode/Bulger analogy doesn't fit in the sense that Flacco wasn't ailing last year, but my point is this: If you feel you're close to a Super Bowl, you might be inclined to spend a little more for a proven insurance policy at a key position.

There are reports that the Ravens looked to add a cheaper, less experienced free agent center before agreeing to terms with Gurode. They couldn't get former Packers center Nick McDonald, and their reported waiver claim for former Eagles center Mike McGlynn was beaten out by the Bengals claiming McGlynn.

The 32-year-old Gurode might not have been the Ravens' top choice to back up Birk because of the money they'd need to dish out in order to secure his services, but needing a proven option on the interior, they'll hand over the cash and move on.

Gurode might end up lining up against Pittsburgh six days from now along with the rest of the Ravens' starting offensive line. Then again, he might be on the bench, with Birk in there matching up against the Steelers' defensive line.

Don't assume that just because the Ravens are writing a somewhat hefty check that they aren't just covering their bases in case Birk happens to break down come December. That could easily be what this signing is all about.

blog comments powered by Disqus