If the Baltimore Ravens have any objective other than repeating as Super Bowl champions, it will be protecting their six-year, $120.6 million investment, quarterback Joe Flacco.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has made a slew of moves through the draft, free agency, and in the trade market to keep Flacco safe and strengthen the chances of a fifth-straight 1,000-yard rushing season from running back Ray Rice.
Beginning with the draft, Newsome used two of the Ravens' 10 picks on the offensive line, and inked another four undrafted free agent tackles and guards. The moves help Baltimore fill the huge hole left after center Matt Birk announced his retirement, and even prepares for the unrestricted free agency of left tackle Michael Oher after next season.
Oher represents a $4.95 million cap hit for the 2013 season, and depending on how he performs next year, a raise may not be out of the question. Oher entered the league as an immediate starter in 2009, and has protected Flacco’s blindside ever since. He has also never missed a game in that time.
Newsome’s latest move to protect his Super Bowl MVP came Thursday when he traded for 304-pound center A.Q. Shipley. Pending a physical, Shipley will compete with Gino Gradkowski for the starting center spot.
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Baltimore sent the Indianapolis Colts a conditional 2014 draft pick for the former Penn State standout and seventh-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009. Shipley played 13 games last year, starting four, for the Colts seventh-ranked passing offense.
A week prior to the trade, Baltimore signed up a slew of big bodies for their offensive line, including sixth-round choice center Ryan Jensen, and fifth-round selection guard Rick Wagner. The Ravens also signed guard Jeff Braun, and tackles Jordan Devey, Rogers Gaines, and J.J. Unga, along with offensive lineman Ramon Harewood.
Wagner was part of a Wisconsin offensive line that cleared paths for the 13th best rushing attack in the nation. Jensen was ranked among the best of available offensive lineman, helping Colorado State average 210.2 passing yards, and 128.8 rushing yards a game last season.
Both could improve a Ravens offense with the 15th-best passing game, 11th-ranked rushing attack. Baltimore finished 10th in points scored last season.
That crew joins stalwarts Oher, Marshal Yanda, and the newly re-signed Bryant McKinnie, who didn’t start a single regular-season game due to injury, but did start all four playoff games for a line that gave up a miniscule six sacks during the title run.
The Ravens have increased depth at nearly every position in front of Flacco and Rice, and have a reported $1.695 million salary cap space left. Whoever wins a spot in training camp will be protecting both players for the foreseeable future.
Newsome’s latest additions will likely need time to adjust, but given their pedigree and experiences, they could step in right away like Oher did in 2009.