The center position is in excellent shape for the Ravens entering the 2015 season.
The arrival of starter Jeremy Zuttah a year ago was a pivotal factor in the turnaround for an offensive line that was nothing short of a disaster in 2013. Second-year reserve John Urschel may be the center of the future — or at least a starter at either guard position — and is rapidly becoming one of the better backup interior linemen in the NFL. Ryan Jensen also offers versatility as a backup capable of playing center in addition to guard and tackle.
But this weekend offered a reminder that the Ravens used a pair of disposable centers to improve their value in next year’s draft.
Hours before making their final cuts on Saturday, the Ravens traded rookie free agent center Nick Easton to the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional 2016 seventh-round pick. Despite playing well in the preseason, the Harvard product was never going to make the 53-man roster and Baltimore managed to find a suitor for a player already on his way out the door.
On Sunday, another shrewd move from the offseason came to the forefront with Denver cutting former Ravens center Gino Gradkowski. In April, general manager Ozzie Newsome sent the fourth-year lineman and a 2016 fifth-round pick to the Broncos in exchange for Denver’s fourth-round selection in next year’s draft.
With Gradkowski scheduled to make $1.542 million in the final year of his rookie contract and no better than third on the early 2015 depth chart, the Ravens saved salary cap space and improved a 2016 pick by trading a player who was unlikely to make Baltimore’s roster and was ultimately cut by his new team. Needless to say, the Ravens got the better end of the trade by a definitive margin.
These two picks in isolation may not be the difference in winning a championship, but the Ravens value having more selections as we’ve seen with their accumulation of compensatory picks over the years. It’s difficult to argue with the results.
Regardless of how these picks play out next year, these are just tiny examples of Newsome building an excellent case as a Hall of Fame executive in addition to already being enshrined in Canton as a player.