In terms of a defending champion – a mantle the Baltimore Ravens will hold until somebody else says otherwise – Baltimore has a big (emphasis on big) question in front of the front office. Do they re-sign Bryant McKinnie?
Big Mac has had issues with NFL decision-makers in the past. He was wearing the Skipper's cap on the Love Boat. He finally got the Pro Bowl recognition he claimed he craved and, once he got it, he blew off practice and became one of the few players ever told he wasn't putting in enough effort at the Pro Bowl practices.
Prior to the infamous 2011 lockout, McKinnie told the local Vikings media that he was getting older and committing himself to having a personal trainer. When the lockout ended, McKinnie showed up all Super-sized in Mankato – convinced that he was needed too badly to be cut loose. He was wrong.
At that point, the Ravens – desperate for a left tackle – motivated Big Mac to shed about 40 pounds and get back to making millions of dollars. At the time, the Ravens had come to the decision that Michael Oher was better suited to covering The Front Side rather than The Blind Side. In his first season, McKinnie was motivated. He became a critical piece of the Ravens offense.
Then came the offseason. As is his habit, McKinnie enjoyed the benefits of being an NFL star. He showed at camp out of shape. He got it together, but not enough. After the Ravens' bye week, the powers that be in Baltimore had seen enough. McKinnie was benched. Once again, when a fire was lit under him, Big Mac responded.
He was re-inserted in the starting lineup for the playoffs and now he has the ring every player dreams of receiving. Therein lies the problem.
McKinnie is a free agent. The Ravens are almost at gun point in their negotiations with quarterback Joe Flacco – like him or not, he deserves to get paid "Manning money." But, does a franchise invest long-term in a quarterback with a question mark on his legitimate blind side protection? It's the kind of question a team defending a fresh title doesn't want to face.
The Ravens have significant questions to answer at the critical position of left tackle moving forward. Oher has proved he can't get the job done at left tackle. McKinnie was benched and later reinserted back into the starting lineup because his replacements didn't perform well either. McKinnie was the No. 1 option for 2012, but will he be for 2013 as well?
McKinnie is notorious for being an asset on game day but a liability away from the field. With a habit of not staying in shape during the offseason, anything more than a one- or two-year contract with the Ravens (or any other team) will be a risk. McKinnie is a player who enjoys his off time and, at times, doesn't seem to care about his professional career. He was unphased by being dismissed from the Pro Bowl squad and got himself in such woeful condition during the lockout that the Vikings felt they had no option but to release him.
As the Ravens begin the process of defending their Super Bowl championship, they clearly have a strong core of players to move forward. Will McKinnie be part of that process? That's a risk/reward decision the Ravens are going to need to make sooner than later and the result of that decision could have a significant impact on the champs moving forward.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.