BALTIMORE — The Ravens haven’t been defeated in the preseason in nearly four years, but their talented secondary sustained a more significant loss earlier this week.
Slot cornerback Tavon Young is likely to miss the 2019 season with a neck injury sustained in practice. One of seven defensive backs held out of the preseason opener by the coaching staff last week, Young last practiced Sunday before sitting out the next two open workouts and Thursday’s 26-13 win over Green Bay.
Head coach John Harbaugh revealed the injury after the game.
“The doctors can explain it, but that’s a disc issue,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a serious injury. He could be out for the remainder of the season. We will know soon, but it doesn’t look good for Tavon.”
Signed to a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension with $13 million guaranteed in late February that temporarily made him the NFL’s highest-paid nickel back, Young collected 37 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and five pass breakups while returning two fumbles for touchdowns last season. The Ravens made a steep financial commitment to Young with the belief that he was rapidly becoming one of the league’s best slot corners, an increasingly important position with Football Outsiders counting Baltimore as using five or more defensive backs on 83 percent of its defensive snaps last season.
This would mark the second time in three years Young has missed an entire season after he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2017. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple played in 15 of 16 regular-season games last season, but he missed the wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a lingering sports hernia that required surgery in January.
Asked whether the Ravens were waiting for a second opinion, Harbaugh seemingly expressed inevitability about Young’s fate for 2019.
“There is an outside chance that you opt to try to see if it will heal, but we’re not recommending that right now in his best interest,” Harbaugh said. “That’s always the first consideration is his long-term well-being. If he gets the procedure done — I don’t want to speak too early, but if he gets it done — he’ll be fine and good to go [for next year]. It’s probably the best thing to do.”
The Ravens are deep in the secondary, but how they’ll replace Young remains to be seen. Return specialist Cyrus Jones has practiced as the second-team nickel corner this summer and started there against the Packers, but veterans Brandon Carr and Maurice Canady have also played in the slot in recent seasons and second-year cornerback Anthony Averett practiced inside extensively during spring workouts.
Labeled a “pit bull” by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale last season, Young brings toughness and physicality as a strong run defender and talented blitzer despite his slight 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. His absence will be a substantial loss for a defense known for its unpredictability after he played in 58.2 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season, a percentage that was tempered by his sports hernia at various points.
“Obviously, Tavon is a huge part of this defense,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “That’s just a tough situation right now.”
The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost due to injury in the NFL last year, but Young is a more significant absence than any of the seven Baltimore players who finished 2018 on injured reserve. He is under contract through the 2022 season and carries a $3.651 million salary cap number for 2019.