Should The Patriots Pursue Eugene Monroe?

With the Ravens recently saying that veteran offensive tackle Eugene Monroe has been the talk of trade discussions, should the Patriots be calling about him if they aren't already?

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh revealed earlier today that the team will be holding offensive tackle Eugene Monroe out of mandatory minicamp that will be held later this week. The reasoning for it? The Ravens are currently shopping Monroe in trade talks with other teams and want to make sure he doesn't get hurt if he is indeed traded. Only three years ago, the Ravens swung a trade to acquire Monroe from the Jaguars. Now they're looking to ship him out of town.

The team drafted offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame with the 6th overall pick in this past NFL Draft, which signaled that the team may not be comfortable moving forward with Monroe being their de-facto starting left tackle. Last season's starting left tackle (who took over after Monroe went down with a shoulder injury) Kelechi Osemele signed a five year contract with the Oakland Raiders earlier this off-season after the Ravens said on multiple occasions that they envisioned Osemele as their "long-term left tackle". With Osemele leaving, the team was mum on whether Monroe would be back in 2016 as the team's starting left tackle.

But when the team drafted Stanley a little over a month ago, it was clear the team did not feel comfortable with Monroe. Now, they could theoretically try and move him to the right side, where he played a bit when he first came to the Ravens, but Ricky Wagner started showing flashes of solid play in 2015 handling the right tackle spot. Stunting Wagner's growth and keeping him as a key back-up rather than a starting offensive tackle may not be in the best interest of the team if they want to continue Wagner's development, so moving to right tackle may not be in the cards for Monroe either.

The team recently said that Monroe was cleared to play after he underwent off-season shoulder surgery from an injury that shut down his season prematurely in 2015. This goes into another point, where the veteran has had issues over the past couple of seasons staying on the field. Monroe has missed 15 games between the 2014 and 2015 season including this shoulder injury he dealt with late last season. 

Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun tweeted out earlier today that he believes the team has "moved on" from Monroe and will either trade or release him.

With that being said, could the Patriots be one of their potential trade partners for Monroe? Should the Patriots try and pursue a veteran offensive lineman like Monroe? My answer: "Sure, why not?".

Monroe turned 29 years old in April and is coming off of shoulder surgery as mentioned above. He was declared healthy not too long ago by the Ravens, so it sounds like Monroe's availability for Week One is not in danger considering this news and that we are only in June. But Monroe has struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons, playing in only 17 out of a possible 32 games. But prior to 2014, Monroe played in 76 out of a possible 80 games. So it may have been that Monroe has had a couple unlucky seasons with injury, or he could be breaking down as he now enters his 8th season in the league. 

In terms of scheme fit, it might be a bit interesting. Now that legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is back with the team after two less-than-inspiring seasons under previous offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, the Patriots offensive line is expected to improve. Scarnecchia did not necessarily have a particular "scheme" that he ran with his offensive lineman considering the Patriots very unique offensive playbook and constant shifts in offensive mentality depending on the week/opposing team. Monroe would be coming over after spending two seasons in Marc Trestman's zone-blocking scheme, which Monroe seemed to thrive in both run blocking and pass protection. Monroe, when healthy, often handled taking on the opposing team's best rusher on passing plays and would win his one-on-one battles consistently. 

Monroe is not a "mauling" offensive tackle but a very solid technical player who fit well in a zone-blocking scheme due to his reliance on winning his one-on-one battles with proper leverage as opposed to strength. Also, zone-blocking offensive lineman are usually expected to be more athletic as opposed to powerful, so that could fit well with Monroe's pedigree already. With the Patriots having young offensive lineman like Shaq Mason and Bryan Stork who might adapt better to zone-blocking to help rely on their natural athleticism more than strength per say. But nevertheless, with the Patriots unpredictability in offensive scheming on a week-to-week basis, there could definitely be a healthy dose of zone-blocking schemes thrown in 2016.

Moving into contract and cap situation, Monroe has a cap hit of in 2016 of $8,700,000 ($6,500,000 of it is base salary; $2,200,000 is a signing bonus). The Patriots top-51 cap total (teams have only their top 51 contract against their cap space in the off-season, when the regular season starts, all 53 contracts and any practice squad contracts would count against the cap) is $150,697,358, which gives them an estimated cap space total of $8,945,043. Once the regular season starts and all of the contracts mentioned above count against the cap, the Patriots have a cap space total of -$9,167,407. So clearly, some cap maneuvering may be in order if they wanted to bring Monroe on. If the team decided to waive/release offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, they would save $3,687,500 in cap space ($4,754,168 cap hit minus $1,066,668 dead cap hit).

The team could also try to trade/release veteran offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer if Monroe came on board to the team and took over the right tackle spot while Nate Solder had the left tackle spot. Vollmer is going to be 32 years old before the season starts and Monroe is almost 3 years younger, so that could be a factor. The team would save $3,125,000 in cap space in 2016 if they cut Vollmer ($5,208,334 cap hit minus $2,083,334 dead cap hit). Since he is in the last year of his contract, the only ways the team could try and lower Vollmer's cap hit to keep him would be to sign him to a contract extension (which seems highly improbable due to his age) or by simply asking for him to take a pay cut. Other factors could include the Patriots signing Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and possibly Jabaal Sheard to contract extensions, which could lower their 2016 cap hits and save the team some cap room.

One other possibility could be the Patriots only making a trade work for Monroe if he agrees to restructure his contract, which the team is notorious for doing (see Amendola, Danny). Monroe still has three years on his contract, so some contract maneuvering is definitely a possibility.  Also keep in mind that if the Patriots traded any players to the Ravens to acquire Monroe, their cap hits may not necessarily be on the Patriots books for 2016. But to summarize, if the Patriots want to make it work financially, they will find a way.

Overall, Monroe is someone that could help New England in a weak area, and it makes sense to ask if he's willing to restructure his contract to join a Super Bowl contender. Another key will be his health; if Monroe is healthy following his off-season shoulder surgery, that could come a long way in determining his worth. The Patriots do not have much offensive tackle depth behind Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, as evidenced from last season. Monroe could prove to be a valuable veteran to provide depth at a critical position. Plus, it never hurts that the Patriots are a perennial Super Bowl contender nearly every season and could entice Monroe if he is looking for "one more ring" before he retired. It never hurts to ask, right?

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