Baltimore Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley isn’t more motivated to shove defensive linemen to the ground because all the players selected before him in his draft class landed mega-deals. He isn’t going to protect Lamar Jackson any better on Sunday because he is on the same field as the league's highest-paid player at his position.
For the NFL MVP’s top bodyguard, what has always driven him to be the best can be traced back to a Las Vegas drive-thru.
When Stanley was around 12, his mother took himself and his younger brother and sister to a fast food restaurant after one of his basketball games. She ordered for herself, grabbed the bag and drove off.
"Losers can’t have food at the drive-thru,” she told them.
The children called their father, who was often out of town for business, about what happened and cried about how losers can’t eat. For the record, Juli Stanley did eventually feed her kids but not before serving up a hard lesson in the only way she knew would grab their attention.
Give your all, all the time.
"People might think I’m crazy,” Juli said recently. "I’m not a good loser.”
The Stanley family can’t remember how many times this happened. It wasn’t frequently, but it certainly was more than once.
After another game, Juli took Stanley and his friends to the drive-thru. She bought food for everyone except Stanley.
This wouldn’t automatically come after defeats. Stanley and his siblings could win but still lose out if their mother didn’t think they gave maximum effort.
All three children went on to receive Division I athletic scholarships, although Stanley’s competitiveness continually pushed him to the top.
In high school, Stanley was Nevada’s No. 1 overall football prospect. In college, he became the first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 NFL draft. In the NFL, he is widely considered the best left tackle.
"I always wanted to be able to prove I could do what she thought I could do,” Stanley said of his mother.
The biggest question remaining is when Stanley will become the highest-paid at his position. If Stanley can overcome a hip injury and play Sunday in Houston (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), he will cross paths with Laremy Tunsil, who escalated the value for left tackles in April by signing a three-year contract that averages $22 million per season.
Stanley, who is in his contract year, earned the right to surpass Tunsil with one of the best seasons by an offensive tackle in recent memory. He excelled in protecting the blind side of Jackson, allowing the fewest pressures (six) by an offensive tackle in 14 years, according to Pro Football Focus. He opened holes for the NFL's all-time best single-season rushing attack on the left side, where Baltimore averaged 7.2 yards per rush.
"He’s one of the best athletes out there playing tackle right now,” said Jonathan Ogden, the Ravens’ Hall of Fame left tackle. "That’s probably why he’s going to get paid well soon.”
To the rescue
Stanley’s love for football is only exceeded by affection for dogs. His heartwarming story of rescuing two pit bulls actually has a gut-wrenching beginning.
Stanley begged his parents to get a dog for years, and he was repeatedly turned down. When he was 14, his parents bought two cocker spaniels to give to the children for Christmas.
Just eight days later, a babysitter accidentally left open the gate to the pool and one of the puppies drowned. Stanley was coming home after having a great basketball game when he learned his dog had died.
It was so devastating Stanley wrote about the tragic loss of his dog for his college admission essays.
"I definitely took it hard, feeling helpless,” Stanley said. "I couldn’t do anything. It was tough.”
Helping to save dogs has become a passion. A month after getting drafted in the first round, Stanley walked into a Baltimore animal shelter and asked for “the most unadoptable” pet. He brought home Lola, a then-6-year-old pit bull who had been found locked inside a room of an empty home with no food, water or fresh air. It looked like she was trying to eat through walls and the door to escape.
A year later, Stanley decided Lola needed a companion, and he returned to the shelter to adopt Rico, a 3-year-old pit bull mix. They’re usually either playing out in Stanley’s backyard or lounging on the couch beside him while he watches TV or plays video games.
Stanley has modeled in the shelter’s Pawject Runway fundraising event and once matched donations to help abandoned animals.
“[Losing my dog] was a driving force to make sure to see how much responsibility matters,” Stanley said. "Even accidents like that can still be avoided with proper responsibility. Just really made me have that sense to take care of something and make sure you’re doing it right.”
Next man up
A few days before the start of the season, Stanley was tagged on a tweet that could’ve easily frustrated him. With Jalen Ramsey signing a deal to become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, all five players selected ahead of Stanley in the 2016 draft had signed deals that made them among the richest athletes in the sport.
Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Joey Bosa and Ramsey all have struck deals with total values exceeding $100 million, and Ezekiel Elliott became the league’s highest-paid running back at $90 million over six years. Even DeForest Buckner, who was drafted one spot after Stanley at No. 7, signed a five-year, $105 contract.
Stanley’s reaction? “I’m definitely happy for all those guys,” he said.
Stanley’s preference is to stay in Baltimore on a market value deal. According to Spotrac, that’s an average of $22.1 million per season. There were no contract talks for six months this offseason before the sides spoke again last month. No deal is imminent.
During the summer, wide receiver Willie Snead tweeted about Stanley, writing “Pay dat mannn” along with three money bag emojis. About a half-hour later, Jackson responded with “Pleaze” and three praying hands emoji.
Please pay that man pic.twitter.com/3iCaUcm— Lamar Jackson (@Lj_era8) Aug. 20, 2020
Stanley continues to outplay Tunsil, who signed a three-year $66 million contract after committing a league-high 17 penalties last year. In Week 1, Stanley negated Browns pass-rusher Myles Garrett, two months after he reached a five-year, $125 million deal.
After Stanley plays out his $12.8 million fifth-year option this season, the Ravens would presumably put the franchise tag on him if they can’t sign him to an extension in order to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Baltimore faces the challenge of keeping six Pro Bowl players who are due new deals over the next couple of seasons, including Jackson.
The Ravens don’t believe Stanley has been distracted by the business side.
"I haven’t seen any affect at all,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he’s working hard and playing hard. His attitude has been very good -- like always. Ronnie has been Ronnie, which is just what you expect from a pro like Ronnie.”
Baltimore understands the difficulty of finding a quality left tackle. After Ogden retired in 2007, the Ravens went through seven starters in eight years before drafting Stanley with the No. 6 overall pick in 2016. When Stanley left Sunday’s game with an injury, replacement D.J. Fluker allowed a sack in one quarter of work.
Texans coach Bill O’Brien complimented Stanley’s intelligence, technique and demeanor, saying he plays the game calmly. Browns coach Kevin Stefanski had another description for Stanley: “A complete player.”
'Very practical person'
When Stanley lands his big deal, no one really expects him to splurge.
Why? Oreo balls.
Stanley had a side business in high school making a wildly popular treat. He saw a girl had brought in these cake pops, which featured crushed Oreos in the center. He got the recipe and started making them on his own.
A profit was quickly made in selling baggies of five Oreo balls for $5. Instead of using the money to buy a video game or go out somewhere, he bought a food processor to help him grind up the Oreos.
"Ronnie is very practical person in his life and in his spending,” his mother Juli said. "That’s who he is.”
Stanley is known to spend to travel. Two years ago, he took a trip to Russia for the World Cup. Stanley got hooked on soccer after playing the FIFA video game and later became friends with Germany defender Jerome Boateng of Bayern Munich.
For the most part, Stanley keeps his money close to home and within the family. He supports the local YMCA in Las Vegas, where he attended camps and played sports. Stanley makes sure his 95-year-old grandmother can get to a game if he plays on the West Coast, setting up transportation and a wheelchair.
He’s also assisting his sister Raychel in attending graduate school for sports psychology.
“He’s not going to write a check,” Juli said. “He’s going to help you to help yourself.”
On the night Stanley got drafted, his mother wondered aloud whether she truly helped her son. Juli apologized to him for pushing him so much. She worried that he couldn’t enjoy the moment because whenever Stanley did well, she told him that he could do better.
Stanley then looked at her and said, “If you didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be sitting here."