Grubbs' extended absence could damage his free agent value

Ben Grubbs will be a free agent at the end of this season.

Boy, did the Ravens' starting left guard pick a bad time to miss five games (and counting) with a nagging toe injury.

Coming into this year, Grubbs had not missed a game in his NFL career. Considered one of the tougher guys in the Ravens' locker room, he'd played a full four seasons, making 60 starts in those 64 games. Grubbs was a Pro Bowl alternate the last two seasons, and many thought of him as the most underrated performer along the Ravens' offensive line.

This year, Grubbs played in Baltimore's season opener, but hasn't appeared in a game since. He's now been ruled out of Monday night's game against the Jaguars, which will mark his fifth straight contest missed.

At this point, given the way the injury has lingered, you have to wonder whether Grubbs' free agent stock will take a significant hit.

The Ravens insist that there's nothing structurally wrong with Grubbs' ailing toe, and say that an MRI on the Auburn product came back clean. Head coach John Harbaugh said yesterday that Grubbs and the team are just waiting for the swelling and bruising in the toe to subside before he can get back on the field.

But we've seen before that toe injuries can cause big problems for offensive linemen. Those of us around the Baltimore area remember how a case of turf toe quickly brought about the end of Jonathan Ogden's fantastic 12-year career.

I'm not at all suggesting that Grubbs' toe injury could be career-threatening or that his issues are similar to those that Ogden dealt with (I lack the medical training to make either of those claims), but I am saying that toe injuries can be tough for offensive linemen to battle through.

Linemen need to crouch down and then push off in order to properly pass protect and run block. Without a solid base underneath them, a lineman cannot be completely effective.

Even if Grubbs is able to recover sometime in the next couple weeks and finish strong for the remainder of the season, teams might have pause before deciding to invest Marshal Yanda-type money ($32 million over five years) in Grubbs.

Of course, from the Ravens' perspective, if Grubbs has trouble getting a big-money deal elsewhere, it's possible Baltimore might be able to get the 27-year-old to return at a discounted rate.

Right now, Grubbs just wants to get back on the field so he can help his team. He's admitted he's frustrated with how slowly he's recovering from this injury, and it has to be tough watching from the sideline week-in and week-out as your teammates battle their butts off.

But while Grubbs' absence is affecting the Ravens short-term, it could be affecting the 27-year-old long-term, as well.

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