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Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome met with Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs on Wednesday.
They chatted about Alabama-Auburn college recruiting at their alma maters. But there was also business to tend to.
Grubbs is set to become an unrestricted free agent this March. The Pro Bowler is expected to draw much interest, and possibly a large payday.
The Ravens are interested in bringing him back. But at what price?
“He understands and his agent understands the business, but I think we’re at a good spot with Ben,” Newsome said. “But, who will Ben keep us from getting and who will we have to let go in order to keep Ben? That’s going to be the balance.”
The Ravens selected Grubbs, 27, in the first round of the 2007 draft. He’s been a steady, key fixture of the offensive line for the past five years.
This season, Grubbs missed six games due to a toe injury. When he returned, the Ravens’ run game and pass protection both dramatically improved.
“Ben has two major factors that we like: He’s a really good player and he’s young,” Newsome said. “So, as we start to put together the 53-man squad, going into 2012, we will factor those things in.”
The Ravens are also preparing to give two other young stars, quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, new contracts. That affects whether they will have enough salary cap room for Grubbs.
Newsome was asked how realistic it is that he could lock up all three of them.
“I think to answer that, I would have to say then, ‘Who would we let go to keep those three guys?’” Newsome said. “Because if we decide to let four or five players go, waive them, terminate them, then we could keep those three very easily. But, the key is balancing – keeping the good players that we’ve got and trying to re-sign those guys.”
Another option would be to restructure a lot of contracts to make room for all three players, but “then we’ll end up paying for it three years from now,” Owner Steve Bisciotti said. The consistency-minded Ravens don’t like mortgaging the future.
Thus, every year there’s a balance a general manager must strike when considering whether to bring back a player or find a more affordable replacement.
Newsome recalled when he let Bart Scott walk to the New York Jets and replaced him with young, former undrafted free agent in Jameel McClain.
The Ravens made those tough calls last year with wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, running back Willis McGahee and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg. They let all four go and replaced them – with the exception of McGahee – with younger starters.
It’s a shift that Bisciotti pushed last year, to not be afraid to throw the team’s younger players into the mix. And it paid big dividends with Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith and Terrence Cody.
In considering replacing Grubbs with an option already on the roster, 2011 third-round pick Jah Reid’s name was raised. Reid, who was drafted as a tackle, was active for all 16 games and played some guard.
“We’ve had Jah now for a year, and now we’ve got him for a full offseason and OTAs and stuff like that, so John and I are not afraid,” Newsome said. “John, at the end of the day, is the guy that has to make that decision, and he is not afraid to play young guys when other guys walk out the door.”