Ravens Special Teams was Abysmal in 2011

One unit that often gets lost in the shuffle is the special teams squad, and in 2011 the Ravens unit was nothing short of a disaster. From fumbles that lost games, to a revolving door at kick returner and ranking near the bottom in pretty much every statistical category, it was an abysmal performance from a unit led by veteran coach Jerry Rosburg. Add in the performance of Billy Cundiff coming off his first pro Bowl nod in 2010 and the missed FG heard round the world in the AFCC game, and the Ravens have some serious concerns heading into 2012.

Just how bad was it? Placekicker Billy Cundiff finished the year with a 75.7% make rate, his worst while playing a full season since entering the league in 2002. This was following up a 2010 season where he made an astounding 89.7% of his attempts, and tied a record for touchbacks in a season with 40. Of course we can’t forget the most crucial miss of them all, one from 32 yards that would have given the Ravens a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time in the Harbaugh/Flacco era. Prior to that kick, Cundiff was 68 of 71 from 32 yards or less, or 96%.

The kickoff coverage unit was by far one of the the worst this franchise has ever seen, an abysmal 31st overall allowing a staggering 29.2 yards per return. As crazy as it might sound, that was actually an improvement over the 2010 unit which finished dead last. With two years in a row of performances like that I suspect there will be some serious changes made, especially knowing head coach John Harbaugh’s special teams background.

On punt returns the Ravens averaged giving up just 9.6 yards to the opposing team, still only finishing middle of the pack overall. The Ravens made some adjustments in the middle of the season putting Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams manning the gunner roles, and improved in that area down the stretch. If anyone wants to know why Jimmy Smith is playing special teams there is your answer, he is a big strong fast athlete who brings young talent and speed to a unit that desperately needs it.

They allowed 2 return touchdowns on the punt coverage unit, after not surrendering any in 2010. Arizona Cardinals kick returner Patrick Peterson took one back 82 yards to house in week 8, and Cleveland Browns returner Joshua Cribbs made it to the endzone from 84 yards out on Christmas Eve in week 16.

Using a hodge podge of punt returners that included Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb and various other “spot duty” fill ins that were pretty unspectacular, the Ravens finished 9th overall with an 11.9 yard average in that area mainly due to budding superstar Ladarius Webb . Webb’s finest moment was taking a punt back to the house on Dec 6th from 68 yards out against the Cleveland Browns, his first NFL TD and the first one for the Ravens since the 2007 season. If the Ravens want to improve this unit, they need to find someone who can fill the role consistently, and that person under no circumstances should be one Lardarius Webb. Webb has established himself as one of the premier corners in the NFL and players you can’t afford to lose him to a season ending injury over a few yards here or there and a rare TD.

The one saving grace on the flip side of the punting game was veteran Sam Koch, who was the only bright spot on a disappointing unit. Koch averaged 46.5 yards per punt, good for 10th overall and a 3 yard increase from 2010. While he picked up his average his inside the 20 numbers suffered, with only 21 downed in red zone for 2011, compared to a staggering 39 in 2010. The attempts were fairly close with 81 in 2010 and 73 in 2011, so the fact he had almost half as many is a bit concerning. If the Ravens want to contend for the Super Bowl once again, special teams is an area that needs to be tightened up.

Hopefully some of the slight adjustments as the 2011 season went on will carry into 2012, because it is hard to be that bad across the board in one of the 3 phases of the game and not have it come back to haunt you at some point. The Ravens got lucky last year, but can’t count on that again for 2012 if the unit does not make a significant improvement. Coach Jerry Rosburg has his hands full this coming season, and if improvement is not shown he could be looking for another job.

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Ray Rice Market Value Analysis

With the Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster contracts that were recently completed, we now have two more extensions to add to the running back list to use for a solid market analysis. Some have already opined and are throwing out numbers without looking at the entire picture, which unfortunately still contains two contracts for backs that are much more comparable to Rice, in Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson. Those contracts, however, will not and should not be used as a framework for a long term deal as much as Rice’s agent would like them to be.

In my extensive running back research I have been working on for the past few weeks(much more on that to come, stay tuned), there is one huge factor in years and guaranteed money working for or against a player seeking a new contract and that is age. The age of the player is the one thing that has shown to be the best predictor of future performance by a long shot, and it isn’t even close.

The reason age is such an important factor is that not all backs enter the league with the same”mileage” on their tires as others. Some are just late bloomers, some go the junior college route before making it, and some are sprung into action early by age 21 and have a head start on the field. There is a definitive and direct correlation from their age to drop off in significant production, and it is clear as day not matter what the talent level of the back. But the one common theme when you see them hit that proverbial wall is how old they are, when father time starts catching up with them.

Think about it, any player that makes it to the NFL has probably been playing football since they were a youngster, and THAT is when the miles start. You can easily judge how much wear and tear that body has by looking at the most basic stat, their age. This is where backs start differentiating themselves on these long term deals, and how many years and guaranteed money a team is willing to give up on a long term deal. As you will see the evidence again backs this up 100% when I post my findings a little later on down the road.

With all that said, here are all the significant running back deals done recently to give us a framework of what we are looking at for a player of Rice’s caliber and very young age at only 24 years old as I type, and a comparative analysis for each one.

Arian Foster – 5 years $43.5 million, $20.75 million guaranteed (signed 3/5/12, 25 years old)

I will say this, the Texans got an absolute steal for Foster. This is a 25 year old back who is coming off a 2,220 and 1,841 yard seasons  the two previous years, putting him in the very upper echelon of backs with Rice, Peterson and Johnson. At an average of $8.7 million a year Texan fans should be doing backflips as Foster will be a high producer for the next 5 years at a relatively modest price. He can run it, he can catch it and he is about to enter the prime of his young career. You can’t ask for much more at the number the Texans and Foster finished at…for the team and fans at lest.

Marshawn Lynch –    4 years $32 million, $18 million guaranteed (signed 3/4/12, 25 years old)

This is a deal that is very ambitious, and slightly overpaid despite Lynch being only 25 years old. Lynch is a “tier 2” back…barely. Lynch has never had more than 1,416 scrimmage yards, and that was last year. While that number is good it is nowhere near what your premium players at running back are producing these days. Lynch is a pure power runner that offers little in the way of receiving yards, and while he will be productive for the next 4-5 years will not be worth what he was just paid. This is a classic example of not looking at the entire career and using his best season which is fresh in your mind to justify this type compensation. Last year was probably as good as it gets for Lynch, and while it was good it just wasn’t that “great”.

Adrian Peterson – 7 years $96 million, $36 million guaranteed (signed 9/10/11, age 26)

A terrible deal, the very definition of an “albatross” of a contract that will kill the Vikings in the later years. In no way shape or form should any running back get 7 years, unless it has a couple “funny money” years at the end. Looking at the structure of this contract it does not, and pays Peterson consistently through age…33. Peterson is a violent runner and his style lends itself to injuries, not to mention the fact that at age 30 you will see a significant drop off, while still paying him a huge amount of money for the next 2-3 years. His average of nearly $14 million a year should be used as an example of what NOT to pay a running back no matter how good he is, especially for 7 long years.

 Chris Johnson – 4 years $53 million, $30 million guaranteed (signed 9/2/11, age 26 )

This deal is not quite as bad as Peterson’s, but close. Love the years, hate the money.  The yearly average again is just way too high, checking in at $13.25 million. The guarantees again are  just way outside of the box at $30 million for only 4 years, which would have been on the high side for a 6 year deal . With that guaranteed money and years no way the Titans can get out of this one early, but on the bright side he should be highly productive for the length of the deal.  Not $13.25 million productive though.

Deangelo Williams – 5 years $43 million, $21 million guaranteed (signed 7/29/11, age 27)

Another terribly bad deal for a couple of reasons, the age and production level. The age is a huge factor, with him signing a 5 year deal with only 3 good years left in the tank at age 27. That is 2 years on the back end where they will either cut him, or have a high salary for a small producer on the roster. On the production side I was baffled to look at his numbers, inconsistent and downright average numbers since he has been in the league. Only ONE year over over 1,500 scrimmage yards, another year of 1,369 and spotty performance otherwise.  He just isn’t that good, and I have no idea what the Panthers were seeing paying him this type of money.

 Maurice Jones Drew – 5 years $31 million, 17.5 million guaranteed (signed 4/15/09, age 25)

I threw this deal in here because it was mentioned somewhere else, but it really isn’t that relevant for a few reasons. First it was signed 3 years ago, unlike all the others which were signed recently. Second it was signed at a time when Jones Drew was coming off of 3 years of “part time duty” where he was a very efficient producer but had not put in the 350ish touch seasons we see from a back like Rice the last 3 years. Jones-Drew only had 530 total carries his first 3 years and had not shown that he could carry a full load yet, and the Jaguars made a very shrewd move getting him to sign early (a year before he hit free agency and got full time touches) and that turned out to be a very smart move. Last of all even if you take Jones Drew’s best seasons ( at age 24, 25 and 26), he still does not have the value through the air of a Foster or Rice, and heavily relies on the ground game at this point of his career to get a lot of his production.

So there we have it, a list of mostly bad deals for one reason or another. Sometimes it is projected future production, sometimes it is age, other times it is both. Fortunately for Ravens fans Rice has a leg up on every one of those backs with his past and projected future production. He has the age factor working for him, being only 25 years old when the 2012 season starts. He has the production factor going for him, out producting every one of those backs on the list the past 3 years, a few by a long shot. He also has the lack of injury history, another thing not one of those backs on that list can lay claim to.

So what does all this mean, and where do I see Rice at? Due to his age, I am going to set the years at 6 not 5 to start off. That will pay him through his age 30 year, right at the point even the lesser backs last until without a significant production drop off. Now with the 6 year deal, his signing bonus will a little higher and I will guess around $26-28 million. The total value of a 6 year deal should average around $10 million yearly give or take a few dollars, especially if much less productive backs are getting over $8 million averages.

Look for a deal for Rice in the 6 year $60 million range, with $27 million in guarantees, and don’t be shocked if it is a little higher. Rice has out-produced, and history shows will continue to out-produce every single back on that list for the foreseeable future. And that is what you pay for in the NFL and any other sport…..production.

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Lardarius Webb – Pay the Man Now, Not Later

One of the greatest things about the 2011 Ravens season was the joy of watching a young cornerback go from a guy who a lot of people outside of Baltimore  knew nothing about, to one of the best man to man cover corners in the NFL by the end of the season. The ball skills and short area quickness Webb possesses are nothing short of amazing, something that you won’t see on a lot of players. On top of all that his hands are just as good as many wide receivers, picking balls out of the air like they did in the days of “stickum” .

Webb seemed to have highlight reel interceptions week after week in critical situations, and appears to be fully recovered from ACL surgery that ended his 2009 campaign and hobbled him throughout the entire 2010 season where he admitted he was just a step slower than he normally is. Even without all his speed back he excelled in the nickel corner role and managed to get his hands on 9 balls intercepting two.

Many Ravens fans saw a possible star in the making, but had no idea Webb would play at an All Pro level while being matched up against the best of the best wide receivers week after week the entire season. It was almost as if you were watching a true shutdown corner in his prime, at an unbelievable level of play despite Webb’s youth and relative inexperience. Including the playoffs he picked off 8 passes and had an unbelievable 25 passes defended, and notched his first NFL touchdown Week 4 against the NY Jets. The player grading site ProfootballFocus had Webb ranked as the number 4 cornerback in the NFL, not allowing one single touchdown all year.

Before the AFC Championships many of the Patriots faithful had no idea who Webb was, and bristled at the notion of anyone, much less some “no name cornerback” covering their beloved Wes Welk-ah one on one in open space. Welk-ah had an unthinkable 122 receptions and over 1,500 yards leading up to that game, so the Patriots fans had good reason to boast and brag about how unstoppable he was. His final tally for the AFCC game?  Just 6 receptions for 53 yards and no touchdowns, and anyone who watched was probably wondering if he was even on the field most of the time as he was a non-factor.

Webb was matched up on Welker in the slot all day, one on one and had no problems staying step for step with Welker. The seemingly impossible task of stopping this catch machine that no one man could do was done, and done well. The world finally got to see what Ravens fans have been seeing for 17 games, as Webb did it yet again with a twisting reach back interception that completely swung the momentum the Patriots had at the time. The look on Tom Brady’s face was that of shock and disbelief when the play was over, and of one could read minds I’m sure it would have been something like “How in the hell…..”

So that brings us to this offseason, where Webb is currently a restricted free agent for the 2012 season. There is no doubt the Ravens will place a 1st round tender on Webb, forcing any team to give up a 1st round draft pick and a hefty contract to steal him away. But I am writing today that the brass in Owing’s Mills should avoid that situation immediately and start talking long term deal with Webb and his agent, to lock him up early.

The tender on a 1st rounder for 2012 is going to be almost $3 million, and a reasonable long term deal could have that cap number around the same amount or just a little bit higher with the uncapped league rules a thing of the past. Webb is clearly in the future plans, and he should never get anywhere near free agency or another team who could easily be willing to pony up a 1st rounder and contract for one of the best young corners in the game, forcing the Ravens to match.

One option they could use is the “franchise him and then work out a deal” scenario in 2013 while he is under the tag, like they did recently with Haloti Ngata. But why even let it get to that point?

About one of the only criticisms I have  of the Ravens front office is the dragging of their feet in getting major contracts done, the two prime examples being Chris McAlister and Terrell Suggs. Both were franchised and deals were not able to be worked out, and in the end they eventually ended up paying both a lot more than they wanted after all the back and forth. When you have elite players like that their value is only going to go up the more they play, as they enter their prime. Webb is no doubt entering that stage of his career and his price tag is only going to go up the closer he gets to free agency and the more spectacular plays he makes.

Webb plays a position of the utmost importance in the pass happy NFL, and he will only be 26 years old when the 2012 season starts. NFL owners all around the league will have the checkbook out and there will be a lot of zeros on the check they will be willing to write him if he ever sniffs free agency, or even with his availability under the top restricted free agent tender. For reference here are the latest contracts that top tier cornerbacks signed and how they break down. (per rotoworld)

Darrell Revis (NYJ) – 4 years $46 million with $32.5 guaranteed (signed 9/6/2010, age 25)

Jonathan Joseph (Hou) – 5 years $48.75 million with 23.5 million guaranteed (7/29/2011, age 27)

Leon Hall (Cin) – 5 years $42.375 million with $14 million guaranteed (signed 9/2/2011, age 25)

Brandon Flowers – 6 years $50.6 million $22 million guaranteed (signed 9/16/2011, age 25)

Nnamdi Asomugha – 5 years $60 million $25 million guaranteed (signed 7/29/2011, age 30)

As you can see there is a firm template in place and recently the market that has been established for top flight corners, with many large deals in the past year which is sometimes tough to find at certain positions. Again cornerback is such a high demand position these days teams are locking up their players before they even hit free agency, and of the listed players only Joseph and Asomugha were unrestricted free agents. And if the Bengals didn’t have to pay Leon Hall you can better believe they would have paid Joseph before he hit free agency, and in Asomugha’s case he was franchised twice before the Raiders let him walk in yet another botched player transaction.

Looking at these numbers the market rate is about $8 – $12 million per year, with around $25 million in guarantees. While Webb and his agent certainly won’t be able to argue he should get Revis type money, he could make a case that he deserves to be paid in line with the rest of the group. Both sides would have an advantage in getting a long term deal done sooner rather than later, with Webb gaining security against injury, and the Ravens getting a slight discount by not having competing bidders to drive up the price. I would think something in the 6 year $45-50 million range with a nice signing bonus around $25 million could get the deal done, and then the Ravens have another superstar locked up long term who can lock down one side of the defensive backfield.

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What Is the Shelf life of a Top Running Back in the NFL?

February 25, 2012 1 comment

It seems like the talk of the town these days is Ray Rice, and whether the Ravens should franchise him or sign him to as long term contract. On one side of the issue you have the crowd who thinks running backs are a dime a dozen, and his production could easily be replaced with a draft pick or combination of backs. On the other side you have the folks who say you would be out of your mind to not sign a Hall of Fame type running back to a contract in his prime, and that it would be insane to just franchise him and then let him walk at age 25 or 26.  I am on the side of every GM and personnel man in the business as evidenced by the last 40 years of running back position, the latter position.

I have argued vehemently that you can’t lump all running backs into the same class, and their purported “shelf life” is not based on reality especially when the great ones are being considered.  And make no mistake about it, Ray Rice is one of the great ones already. I have done some research that I hope will open a few eyes to the facts of the matter, that elite running backs produce without a major drop off until about age 30. Ray Rice has 6 years until he hits that part of his career. Not a year…..not two or three, but 6.

The Yardage Numbers

What I did first was take the top 20 career rushing leaders in the NFL, and calculated the career arc of every single one with their total yards from scrimmage by year and age. I also took note of their “drop off age”, or the age at which they had a significant drop off in production. There were two exceptions in Barry Sanders and Jim Brown, who did not have a drop off because of early retirement by choice, not injury mind you. Just to be fair, I included them with the year they retired as their drop off age when in reality their last seasons production indicated a significant drop off was not likely.

Let’s start off with the age at which elite running backs typically see that production drop off. If you average the top 20 all time rushing leaders out, it shows that age 31 ½ is the point you can definitively see a serious decline. On my spreadsheet I have all the total yards color coded in a chart, so it makes it very easy to see where that “danger zone” I labeled in different shades of red starts. In pretty much every case it is right around that 30-31 year old mark, with a few exceptions for various reasons.

While the age is a decent barometer for the downturn  a much more accurate indicator is the average yards by year, going from age 21 all the way up until age 37 (Thank you Marcus Allen for making me go up that high). For the record Ray Rice has just completed his “age 24” year. Here are the results and the averages from age 21-37.

Age 21 –  631.7

Age 22 –  1304.7

Age 23 –  1376.5

Age 24 –  1536.1

Age 25 –  1587.4

Age 26 –  1638.9

Age 27 – 1612.9

Age 28 – 1474.2

Age 29 – 1433.9

Age 30 – 1208.1

Age 31 – 1030.5

Age 32 – 698.5

Age 33 – 412.9

Age 34 – 205.8

Age 35 – 141.9

Age 36 – 55.0

Age 37 – 29.6

Well, well, well, I thought it was “all downhill for those 25 year old backs”?? How they were already “used up and done” right? Wrong. The numbers clearly show that Ray Rice is just now entering his prime, and has not even hit the sweet spot yet of the age 25-27 years which is where the backs produced most. Heck even at the age of 28 and 29 where you see a tiny drop off start to happen are still just under 1500 yard years, and in a running back’s wheelhouse years  for production on the field. Again this breakdown clearly shows that the drop off is right around age 30, and not any number that starts with “2”.

Hypothetically speaking if the Ravens signed Rice to a 6 year deal, with that 6th year being very team friendly and more of a “funny money” year to give his agent something to brag about, they would be signing Rice smack in the middle of the most productive years of his career. It is a no brainer, and one of the many reasons why the franchise tag makes no sense unless you plan on letting him walk after a year or two. And letting him walk after a year or two just is not an option, despite some claiming otherwise.

Now what if you did have Rice play under the tag this year, and then eventually end up giving him the same type of deal next year you would now. That just pushes that last year back and you lose a year of his prime, which is why if you are going to lock him up you do it now, not next year or the year after. Also while the franchise tag number will be $7.7 million for a running back, on a long term deal Rice’s cap number will be around $4 million in 2012 enabling to keep a free agent of similar value like Ben Grubbs.

Now some have said “well maybe we should just lock him up under the franchise tag for 2 years in a row and just trade him or let him walk after that?” Now how many teams have traded great running backs in their prime at age 25 or so?  The short answer is in all but a few circumstances the team that drafted the player signed them to a second contract, bucking all fan and media conventional wisdom. In the few scenarios that the team did let the player walk they regretted it, as they let a player go who went on to be productive for many years after that.

In Marshall Faulk’s case, who Rice is most comparable to, he went on to be an integral part of a team that went to two Super Bowls in the next 3 years after he was traded.  Oh and for all those who say that the evolution of the passing game has “devalued the position” remind me what type of offense Faulk thrived in? Yeah, one that aired it out all over the field, so tell me again how you don’t need an elite running back with the way the passing game is in 2012. That is complete hogwash. An elite runner who demands attention not only in the run game but passing game is a critical part of ANY offense, and you aren’t replacing that guy with “some other guy”.  You aren’t replacing the production of an elite back PLUS a 3rd wide receiver with “some other guy”.

The “Touches” Numbers

In addition to the yardage numbers, I also developed a number  for the amount of touches the running backs had before they hit the proverbial wall later in their careers. I used the same year I did for the age average, and added up the total amount of  touches until decline (TUD as I will refer to it) that a back was able to get in before the production dropped off significantly. One local radio host has been claiming that “1000-1200 touches and they are done!” for the past week so this one is for him in particular.  1,200 touches? Try 2,901, that is what the average came out to for the top 20 rushing leaders. If you think that is impressive, the top 5 averaged 3,635  TUD. That is 10 solid years of a ridiculously heavy workload. Again, the demise of the running back is greatly exaggerated.

I have heard fans claim that Rice has had “so many touches he won’t last much longer”, but for the record Rice has only 1,209 touches in 4 years. Plenty of gas left in that tank, and if he averages what he has since being a full time player in his second season (about 350 touches per year) he has around 5 more seasons of premium value. It should be noted though that as backs get up near their late 20’s, I have noticed that their carries will get lighter so that 5 years could end up being more if they do that with Rice.

The Fear of Injury

One other thing I want to touch on is the injury risk, which some will throw out there as a factor in deciding whether to pay Rice. Once again, we have to separate the “good backs” from the great ones, and as with all positions the great players who produce year in and year out just don’t seem to get hurt.  Ray Rice is no different, as he has had no major injury as far back as records go that I could find. His small compact build and elusiveness lends itself to longevity, and not a guy who will get beat up constantly.

To further illustrate this point I charted 160 seasons with players “in their prime” and guess how many went down with serious injury? A grand total of 11 years where a major injury hurt their production significantly, or a rate of 6.8% overall. Again it is no coincidence that the better backs stay healthy, and are not the injury risks of their lesser counterparts. This is football and an injury can happen at any time, but to say a top level back is just an injury waiting to happen could not be further from the truth. The same could be said for every position on the football field, and just like with backs the really good ones seem to avoid that injury bug year after year.

To sum up, the notion that an elite level running back at age 25 is not worth paying is based on nothing but myths and assumptions from people who have not spent one second analyzing the facts, much less the hours upon hours  I put in to get a true picture of the career path of the top level backs.  Ray Rice has shown that he is the complete package, and his off the charts production should not be slowing down any time soon if [past history is any indicator of what the future will bring.

The age to get rid of that back is 30, not 25. Ray Rice should and will be signed to a long term deal and will be worth every penny of it if not more, as he has only scratched the surface and should be peaking in the next 3 years. I know that is hard to imagine, but the numbers don’t lie. I can’t say the same for the misinformed people in Baltimore, but I hope this clears a few things up in the discussion.

Writer’s note – I would be more than happy to send a copy of the color coded spreadsheet I made up with my research, just email me at profootballanalyst78@gmail.com and I will send it your way.

Categories: Uncategorized

What is Ben Grubbs market value?

February 4, 2012 1 comment

One of the Ravens most important free agents for the Baltimore Ravens is starting left guard Ben Grubbs, a five year veteran starter on the Ravens offensive line who will making his first trip to the Pro Bowl this year.  This past year he was a key member of an offensive line that did a pretty good job blocking for running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco ….most of the time. Grubbs missed part of the 2011 season only playing in 10 games due to a turf toe injury, and the line was clearly affected with him out of the lineup.

The Ravens made it clear they were going to let him test the market when they didn’t lock up Grubbs with a year left on his rookie contract, a practice they have stuck to with any young player they value highly. Based on his career so far Grubbs is in line for a nice payday, but it all boils down to what the market is willing to offer a Pro Bowl 28 year old guard, as to whether the Ravens are in the mix to retain his services.

While Grubbs will not be considered an elite player at his position, he could probably argue he is a notch below on the next tier. I went back and looked at all the recent top guard contracts for reference, and here is what I found:

Logan Mankins (NE) – 6 years $51 million, $20 million guaranteed. (signed 8/10/11, age 29)

Justin Blalock (ATL) – 6 years $38 million, $16 million guaranteed. (signed 7/31/11, age 27)

Davin Joseph (TB) – 7 years $52.5 million, $19 guaranteed. (signed 7/29/11, age 27)

Marshal Yanda (BAL) – 5 years $32 million, $10 million guaranteed. (signed 7/27/11, age 26)

Chris Kuper (DEN) – 6 years $28 million, $13 million guaranteed. (signed 6/4/10, age 28)

Jahri Evans (NO) – 7 years $56.7 million, $12 million guaranteed. (signed 5/5/10, age 26)

Stacy Andrews (PHI) – 6 years $38 million, $3 million guaranteed (signed 2/28/09, age 27)

Chris Snee (NYG) – 6 years $41.25 million, $17 million guaranteed. (signed 6/24/08, age 26)

As you can see for an even elite level guard, you should be paying right around $20 million in signing bonus, along with a deal that averages $6-8 million a year in salary. One very important thing that should be noted with these numbers though, is that all but one of these contracts was an extension and the player never hit the free agent market. Stacey Andrews was the only one who was a free agent, but he was an injury risk after tearing his ACL during the 2008 season while he played under the tag. One other note is Logan Mankins was set to play under the franchise tag when he agreed to an extension with the New England Patriots, and did play under it the year before in 2010.

The franchise tag number for a guard in 2011 was 10.73 million, and while it is projected to go down in 2012 it doesn’t really make any sense to use it since it includes offensive tackle contracts. I don’t see the Ravens using it on Grubbs unless they feel a deal is imminent, and they just need a little more time to negotiate.

One other factor in Grubbs situation is who else is available in the free agent market for 2012, and there are definitely some notable names.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Deuce Lutui (ARZ) – OG
Chad Rinehart (BUF) – OG
Mackenzy Bernadeau (CAR) – OG
Roberto Garza (CHI) – OG
Nate Livings (CIN) – OG
Mike McGlynn (CIN) – OG
Bobbie Williams (CIN) – OG
John Greco (CLE) – OG
Steve Vallos (CLE) – OG
Derrick Dockery (DAL) – OG
Russ Hochstein (DEN) – OG
Ryan Diem (IND) – OG
Dan Connolly (NE) – OG
Stacy Andrews (NYG) – OG
Chilo Rachal (SF) – OG
Jacob Bell (STL) – OG

Carl Nicks (NO)
Jeremy Zuttah (TB) – OG
Jake Scott (TEN) – OG
Kory Lichtensteiger (WAS) – OG
Will Montgomery (WAS) – OG

The one name that sticks out is Carl Nicks, the clear head of the 2012 free agent guard class. Considered one of the top players at his position, he should be in line for a sizable contract and signing bonus, possibly the richest ever.  There are some decent names to fill out the rest of the list, but none that jump out at you as players that will demand a lot on the open market. Grubbs along with Bobbie Williams of the Bengals are probably in the next tier, with the rest falling in line somewhere after them.  Williams market value may be hurt by a suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy that forced him to miss the first 4 game of the season.

According to the infamous Filmstudy, looking back at Grubbs’ grades for the season showed a guy who excelled at run blocking, and was a more than adequate pass blocker as well.  Some feared his toe injury was possibly a season ending turf toe, but he bounced right back after missing 6 games and it doesn’t appear to be a long term issue. With no off the field issues and a clean health record other than the toe this year, NFL general managers should have no problem writing a pretty big check this spring.

From the Ravens perspective they just signed top guard Marshal Yanda to a 5 year contract extension, and while normally that might preclude a team from giving out another one at the same position, Yanda signed an extremely team friendly deal. If Grubbs was willing to do the same I have no doubt the team would love to have him back, but that doesn’t seem likely with only one other premier guard on the market. There will probably be some team out there who will overpay just enough to get him out of Baltimore, much to the disappointment of the fanbase. I think that even with a “hometown discount” Grubbs would be looking for a similar deal to that of Justin Blalock of the Falcons, something in the $16 million guaranteed $40 million total value range over 5 years. On the open market he might be able to push the $20 million guaranteed $50 million total value mark pretty easily on a 6 year deal.

It all comes back to just how much the team values Grubbs vs. how much the market values him, as to whether he is back playing for the Ravens or not. In my opinion with the deal the Ravens struck with Yanda it would be well worth it to retain him, and with the cap situation they can probably afford it. If not they should be looking for a guard in the upcoming draft to fill that hole, as the roster talent at guard is pretty thin without Grubbs in the mix.

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