Enigmatic San Diego Chargers offensive tackle Jared Gaither managed to parlay a strong performance against the Ravens last season into a four-year, $24.6 million contract that includes $13.5 million in guaranteed money with an $8 million signing bonus.
Gaither absolutely stonewalled Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs during last season's 34-14 win over Baltimore, holding him to no sacks and two tackles, bolstering the Chargers' confidence in him after he became their starting left tackle following him being discarded by the Kansas City Chiefs after an untimely penalty.
However, the relatively hefty investment in the former University of Maryland and Eleanor Roosevelt High School standout hasn't worked out so far for the Chargers. Gaither was placed on injured reserve due to a groin injury that forced him out of practice and games for the past two weeks.
Although incredibly talented with a massive wingspan and mobility at 6-foot-9, 335 pounds, Gaither has only started four times this season.
Undrafted free agent Michael Harris will start at left offensive tackle this game, and he has already surrendered four sacks, five quarterback hits and 31 quarterback pressures while committing six penalties.
"I don’t think it is ever fair to evaluate a guy in terms of his pain threshold," Chargers coach Norv Turner said when asked by San Diego reporters to rate Gaither's ability to play through pain. "I don’t think you know until you’ve had that injury and experienced it. Jared is hurt and it is frustrating that he can’t play.
"Obviously when he has played it has stabilized our offensive line and allows us to do some things a little different on the other side. As I said, we have managed it as well as we can. We are fortunate that Michael Harris kind of came out of nowhere during training camp. He has responded and we are fortunate to have him.”
It's a familiar story line for Gaither, whose back injury forced him to miss his entire final season with the Ravens two years ago.
Rather than retain Gaither as a free agent, the Ravens decided to take a pass on a gifted player who was unreliable due to his health and questionable work ethic and desire for the game. Gaither had also dealt with foot injuries during minicamps heading into his final season in Baltimore, complaints about his foot and toes that raised a few eyebrows.
Behind the scenes, Gaither was unhappy about being shifted to right tackle as the Ravens moved Michael Oher to the left side, where he's now entrenched as the starter after playing right tackle last year when Bryant McKinnie started every game at left tackle.
Ultimately, Gaither just wasn't healthy enough for the Ravens to take a risk on.
“We liked him and he’s a heck of a player," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said during a conference call with San Diego reporters. "He’s a hard-working guy. He’s just had the one injury the last year, his back that cost him the season, basically.
"It happened to be his contract year, so it was a tough thing. We didn’t want to lose Jared at all and we wanted him to be here and be a part of it but it just didn’t work out that way.”
In four starts this season, Gaither has allowed four sacks with just six quarterback pressures given up.
Suggs smiled when asked about whether Gaither's strong game against him led to his former teammate's financial windfall.
“Wow, we’re going to have to go back and check the tape and see what all was going on, if you know what I mean," Suggs said. "They did a good job holding down. Like I said, it wasn’t just the tackles, it was the offense in general. That got flowing, they had a lot of chemistry going."
Although Gaither had issues in Baltimore with being on time, worked sporadically in the weight room and caused frustration when he didn't live up to his vast potential, he was regarded as a friendly face in the locker room and was popular with most of his teammates.
“He was a good teammate," Suggs said. "I didn’t have a problem with him. He was a younger guy. I had a lot of fun around the locker room. He was a good teammate.”
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