As Pro Bowl offensive guard Ben Grubbs officially joined the New Orleans Saints on a $36 million five-year contract, the Baltimore Ravens were actively recruiting his potential replacement. Philadelphia Eagles veteran free agent offensive guard Evan Mathis' visited the Ravens' training complex Thursday and remained in town overnight after a dinner with team officials.
No deal has been struck yet, though.
"I think it's a good fit," Mathis told the Times. "We had a good meeting."
Asked if a deal is imminent, Mathis replied: "We're not at that point yet."
Mathis is regarded as one of the top offensive guards on the free agent market and could be a good replacement for Grubbs, whose contract from the Saints included a $10 million signing bonus and $16 million in total guaranteed money.
Mathis started 15 games last season for the Eagles and graded out as the top offensive guard, according to Pro Football Focus.
Mathis is a former Carolina Panthers third-round draft pick from Alabama, the same alma mater as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"It's a good connection," Mathis said. "It's going really well so far."
Grubbs was regarded as the Ravens' top all-around offensive lineman, and the defending AFC North champions tried to keep him.
Grubbs was made a substantial offer to try to hold onto him, mirroring the five-year, $32 million contract signed by Pro Bowl offensive guard Marshal Yanda last summer.
Grubbs was seeking a more lucrative deal, though, and obtained it as the replacement for Carl Nicks in New Orleans one day after Nicks signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract that included $31 million in guaranteed money as he became the highest paid guard in the league.
With Grubbs leaving the Ravens, he becomes the third player to sign with another team as he joins outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (San Diego Chargers, four years, $19 million) and defensive end Cory Redding (Indianapolis Colts, three years, $10.5 million).
"I'm excited, I accept the responsibility and I look forward to contributing to this offense," Grubbs told New Orleans reporters. "Going against Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs every day at practice, you can't help but survive or die. And I chose to survive. We made each other better and challenged each other. They're great players. I respect all of them and they definitely helped me develop my game a lot faster than it probably would have."
A former first-round draft pick from Auburn who grew up in Alabama, Grubbs was a key component in the Ravens' running game as he led interference for Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.
"There were a lot of things I had to factor in: winning, the locker room, coaches and location," Grubbs said. Location is at the bottom of my list but it is still important to me. When I looked at New Orleans, they had all the variables in the right place. It was an easy choice for me.
"Good players, a good locker room, a veteran-based locker room, it all means a lot to me. Coming from where I came from, hats off to the Ravens because they did that well. I think that's why I'm here is because I wanted something that was comparable to what I was leaving."
Meanwhile, Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie met with general manager Ozzie Newsome on Thursday at team headquarters and is expected to be retained.
By all accounts, it was a positive meeting.
McKinnie, 32, is due a $500,000 roster bonus on Saturday. He's due a $3.2 million base salary next season and carries a $4.2 million salary-cap figure.
McKinnie has dropped some more weight since the end of last season.
The 6-foot-8, 360-pounder was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last year after reporting at nearly 400 pounds.
McKinnie got in better shape quickly and started every game for the Ravens.
Although his run blocking didn't grade out as high as the team would prefer and he's not expected to be a long-term option at left tackle, McKinnie is still regarded as a blocker the Ravens want to keep.
Meanwhile, the Ravens have scheduled Houston Texans free agent offensive tackle Eric Winston for a visit later this week.
He has visited the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs and also has a visit scheduled with the Detroit Lions.
Winston started every game last season, but was cut after undergoing minor ankle surgery. He was due a $5.5 million base salary in 2012 before being released.
Winston, 28, plays right tackle and is well-versed in zone blocking schemes from his time in Houston, which is the same scheme the Ravens installed last season.
"You get to the point and get to know each other fast and find out if it's a good fit or not," Winston said. "I'm looking for the right fit and the right team."
NOTES: Reserve safety Haruki Nakamura visited the Carolina Panthers on Thursday. … The Ravens re-signed outside linebacker Chavis Williams who wasn't tendered an exclusive-rights contract. A former undrafted free agent from Alabama, Williams had two tackles on special teams as a rookie as he was active for five games last season.
Jameel McClain to visit Broncos today
Baltimore Ravens veteran inside linebacker Jameel McClain is scheduled to visit the Denver Broncos today.
The inside linebacker market has gotten off to a slow start with players like McClain in a holding pattern.
Now, the former undrafted free agent from Syracuse is getting some action.
McClain, 26, ranked second on the Ravens in tackles last season behind Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder recorded 84 tackles, one sack, his first NFL interception, five pass deflections and two fumble recoveries.
McClain has said that he prefers to remain with the Ravens.
"Baltimore is home," McClain told Scout before free agency began. "It's a great organization with a lot of great players. Staying there would be the ideal situation. We all know how this game goes. This game shakes up in many ways. It's a business. If it was totally up to me, I would choose the Ravens. I'm hoping that phone rings for me, but there's only one call I really want to hear."
McClain played last season under a $1.85 million second-round restricted tender.
McClain beat out Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden for the starting inside linebacker job two years ago, and he hasn't relinquished his grip on the position.
He had 91 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in his first season as the starter two years ago. In four NFL seasons, McClain has 209 career tackles, 4 ½ sacks and three fumble recoveries.
No matter where he signs, McClain expects to be a big contributor.
"They're going to get somebody that goes all-out and pushes themselves and everybody next to them to the limit," McClain said. "I'm an all-around player. I'll be a leader in the community who will represent the organization well on and off the field."
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