Reading between the lines, it appears the Ravens are not only willing to let left tackle Bryant McKinnie exit as an unrestricted free agent, but they won't try too hard to convince him to stay, either.
McKinnie, who completed his 11th season with a stellar postseason performance in winning the Super Bowl, was in coach John Harbaugh's doghouse since the preseason and was benched the entire regular season. He was re-inserted in the lineup for the playoffs and helped stabilize the left side of the line –- the weak link in the Ravens’ offense -- along with rookie Kelechi Osemele at guard.
McKinnie didn’t have any pre-snap penalties like then-left guard Jah Reid or holding calls like then-left tackle Michael Oher. Reid tore ligaments in his big toe in the regular-season finale at Cincinnati and went on the injured list. Oher was moved back to right tackle after struggling in McKinnie's place.
Center Matt Birk said after the move that the Ravens finally had their best five linemen together. It was the reason quarterback Joe Flacco was able to flourish in the postseason with 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. McKinnie, 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds, faced down Dwight Freeney of the Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos and Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, among others. That trio produced 35.5 sacks this season.
“The way he played down the stretch against Freeney, against Dumervil, and then Aldon Smith it makes a statement for him,” Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said. “He has a decision to make if he wants to come back and play here.”
McKinnie was used sparingly in the regular season. He was forced to restructure his contract and take about a $1 million pay cut just before the opener. He anticipated getting in the lineup in the second half of the season, but that didn't happen, either. He’d accepted that he wouldn’t play, but he kept himself in top shape which had been an issue for him in his two seasons in Baltimore.
Harbaugh started Osemele at right tackle to begin the season. While he performed well overall, Osemele had trouble with speed rushers and showed signs of wilting late in the season. When he was switched to left guard, next to McKinnie, Osemele was near flawless.
The left guard spot had been trouble for the Ravens all season. Ramon Harewood began as the starter and then gave way to Bobbie Williams, who was replaced by Reid. Admittedly rattled at times, Reid was prone to off-start penalties. Oher was out of his comfort zone.
Newsome spoke glowingly of the Ravens having plenty of options along the offensive line in the future and touted the arrival of coach Juan Castillo as run-game coordinator for next season. Castillo coached with Harbaugh for more than a decade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We like our young guys. Juan Castillo is going to be a great addition to our staff,” Newsome said. “He’s known for helping and developing young players. I feel good about our options.”
Translation: If you're going to push the envelope to recoup the salary cut we made you take before the season, plus a raise for your postseason play, don't let the door hit you on the way out.
McKinnie will command bigger offers on the open market than the Ravens are able, or willing, to pay.