(Updated: 5:05 p.m.)
Vowing to improve their offensive line after an 8-8 season, the Ravens have opened up another starting job a week after starting right tackle Rick Wagner departed via free agency.
After NFL Network reported earlier in the day that he would be released, center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco after three seasons and 41 starts with Baltimore. The teams will swap their 2017 sixth-round picks, meaning the Ravens move up 12 spots from 198th to 186th overall on the final day of April’s draft instead of receiving nothing in what would have been a release. The trade came a few hours after former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk lamented his teammate’s reported release on Twitter and suggested he would be a good fit with the 49ers.
— Kyle Juszczyk (@JuiceCheck44) March 15, 2017
Zuttah was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl as an alternate this past year, but the Ravens are aiming to have a more physical presence for the middle of their offensive line. His trade saves $2.4 million in salary cap space, but Zuttah becomes the fourth Week 1 offensive starter to exit since the end of 2016, joining Wagner, Juszczyk, and retired wide receiver Steve Smith.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Zuttah was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 13th-best center in the NFL and was ranked 26th in Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 system. Seeking an upgrade is an understandable goal, but it remains unclear how the Ravens will proceed as young linemen John Urschel and Ryan Jensen are the only internal candidates to replace Zuttah on the current roster.
Urschel started seven games in place of an injured Zuttah in 2015, but he played just 265 offensive snaps in 2016 despite plenty of unrest at the guard spots. Jensen made three starts at guard in 2016, but he appeared to fall out of favor as the season progressed. Of course, new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and new senior offensive assistant — and running game guru — Greg Roman may have higher opinions of these players than former offensive line coach Juan Castillo apparently did.
Many have speculated about the possibility of the Ravens pursuing seven-time Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, but there has been little chatter linking the 33-year-old to any team after an injury-riddled season. The New York Jets released Mangold late last month, ending their 11-year union.
The 2017 draft isn’t considered to be rich in center talent, either, but among the top center prospects are LSU’s Ethan Pocic and Ohio State’s Pat Elflein.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has received praise for the re-signing of nose tackle Brandon Williams and the addition of safety Tony Jefferson on lucrative deals to help the Baltimore defense, but the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense has endured several losses while 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead has been the only addition to this point. And with the first wave of free agency over, the Ravens will likely be depending on the draft as the primary way to address most of their remaining needs on either side of the ball.