Back in early May, Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither was the hot name on the trade market, and the Buffalo Bills were his leading suitor. After being switched from left tackle to right tackle to make way for second-year phenom Michael Oher, Gaither missed voluntary practices during that time period with an unexpected and strange foot injury; prior to the injury being known of, experts speculated that Gaither's absence was indicative of an impending trade.
Flash forward a little over a month. Trade talks have since cooled considerably regarding Gaither, to the point where they're non-existent to the public view. Gaither, 24, recently signed a one-year, $2.396 million restricted free agent tender, so he is now under contract with the only pro team he's ever played for, unlike in early May.
When the trade talks were prominent, Buffalo's interest in Gaither was described as follows by Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk: "The Bills want him bad." Clearly, given the fact that trade talks died down last month, we've no idea if that description is still accurate. Given yesterday's events - a healthy, under-contract Gaither missed practice, and his head coach had absolutely no idea why - the Bills should be careful if they see fit to pursue this matter once more as training camp draws closer.
The reasons Gaither was once available via trade - and may still be - run deeper than the facts that the team prefers Oher at left tackle and doesn't want to pay Gaither elite-level money on the right side. Whispers surfaced when the trade talk first broke in May that the Ravens were not enamored with Gaither's good-but-not-great work ethic, nor his attitude toward his profession.
Academic work ethic was a problem for Gaither in college, where he entered the 2007 Supplemental Draft after being declared academically ineligible. Gaither would have missed the entire 2007 season at Maryland, and been eligible to return in 2008; instead, he went pro, making two spot starts as a rookie and locking down the left tackle job by the time he'd have been able to return to the field as a Terrapin.
Minor injuries have been a problem for Gaither, as well, though he hasn't missed an inordinate amount of time because of those. Since becoming Baltimore's full-time starting left tackle at the outset of the 2008 season, Gaither has missed five of 32 games, thanks in large part to a scary blow to the head he suffered in a Week 4 loss to New England last year. That injury cost him five games; otherwise, he's played through ankle, neck, and shoulder problems. You can add his recent foot problems to that list, as well - he's considered healthy at this point in time, but required orthotics and a cortisone shot for his bruised foot.
Still very young and with a 6'9", 330-pound frame, Gaither is already a borderline-elite pass protector simply because of his length and athleticism. The man was born to play left tackle, but he'll no longer get that opportunity in Baltimore. Back in May, reports indicated that the bare minimum the Ravens would accept in return for Gaither was a second-round pick; any team making a trade for Gaither will also need to come up with an acceptable long-term, highly lucrative extension, as well.
From what I observe, Gaither's erratic behavior over the past month isn't much different than what we're getting out of ridiculously-maligned running back Marshawn Lynch. Gaither's a good football player, but he's not yet a great one; the same can be said for Lynch. Gaither's missing voluntary practices, though he has been at the facility, and he has at least practiced once. The point here to determine which of these two players is exhibiting worse behavior; it's to point out that an investment would be involved here, and that type of behavior is unsettling when discussing high draft picks and big contracts. We shouldn't draw a double standard here just because of the position Gaither plays; if you're irritated with Lynch right now, you shouldn't be ignoring Gaither's behavior just because of the Bills' need for a legitimate left tackle.
No one knows if trade talks surrounding the Ravens, the Bills and Gaither will pick up again. It's not hard to figure out why they cooled in the first place - that second-round compensation and the fat contract Gaither would command are risky investments for a player with Gaither's character makeup. This latest bout of strange behavior from Gaither may just be the fourth-year player angling for a trade, but just as with Lynch, it's not helping his cause. Maybe the Bills still want Gaither; maybe they don't. Either way, Buddy Nix's reticence to make a snap-judgment deal in May may have allowed this organization to dodge a bullet - or at least more carefully consider the circumstances surrounding Gaither.