The Ravens made it clear today during their season-ending press conference that they have every intention of keeping both quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice around long-term.
They'd love to say the same thing about left guard Ben Grubbs, but right now, the odds appear stacked against the five-year veteran remaining in Baltimore.
Make no mistake, Grubbs is a fantastic player. He made the Pro Bowl this season and was arguably the Ravens' top offensive lineman in 2011. In an ideal world, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh would have Grubbs in their starting lineup in 2012 and for years to come, but with Flacco and Rice poised to receive big-money deals and Grubbs - an unrestricted free agent - in line for a nice payday of his own, it seems unlikely that the Auburn product will be back in Charm City.
"Ben has two major factors that we like: he's a really good player, and he's young," Newsome said today. "So as we start to put together the 53-man squad going into 2012, we will factor those things in. But what we also have to factor in (is) what will (re-signing Grubbs) keep us from not getting and what would that (force) us to have to get rid of in order to keep (him). And that's the balance that we'll have to deal with going forward."
Newsome met with Grubbs today and said that the team is "at a good spot with Ben," but the quote above seems to speak volumes.
It will take big bucks to re-up Flacco and Rice, and the Ravens have other needs that have to be addressed, as well. They just gave right guard Marshal Yanda a five-year, $32 million deal last offseason, and it'd be tough to shell out that much money (if not more) for another guard.
Asked if it's realistic to believe the Ravens could give long-term deals to Flacco, Rice and Grubbs, Newsome seemed to shoot that idea down.
"Who would we let go in order to keep those three guys?" Newsome asked. "Because if we decide to let four or five players go, waive 'em, terminate 'em, then we could keep those three very easy. But the key is balancing keeping the good players that we've got and trying to re-sign those guys. It's easy to do if I was to sit here and (say) I'm going to cut this guy, cut this guy and cut this guy. Then I could sign all three of those guys in two days."
Owner Steve Bisciotti then added that another option is restructuring contracts to free up cap room, but pointed out that the downside there is that in a few years, the team would be bogged down financially due to the restructured deals.
In many ways, the Grubbs situation seems exactly like the one with Jason Brown a few years ago. The Ravens drafted and developed Brown, and in 2009, the center hit the free agent market. The Ravens wanted to keep Brown, who had evolved into a quality center, but the 2004 fourth-round pick got a monster five-year, $37.5 million deal with the Rams.
It was a deal the Ravens couldn't match, and because of the level of the compensation, one they frankly didn't want to. Instead, they let Brown walk and plugged in a six-time Pro Bowler in Matt Birk, who Newsome signed to a much more affordable three-year, $12 million contract.
The team's 2010 third-round pick Jah Reid could slide inside and play guard going forward, or if Reid isn't ready, the Ravens could look to free agency or the draft to get another capable guard.
Regardless, don't be surprised if, like Brown, Grubbs ends up getting his payday elsewhere, and the Ravens shake his hand on the way out and turn their attention to other areas.