The Baltimore Ravens have lost one of their most reliable players from the 2021 season, with center Bradley Bozeman signing a one-year deal worth up to $2.8 million, with $1 million guaranteed, per Pro Football Network’s Aaron Wilson.
Bozeman started all but one game for the Ravens in 2021, earning a career-high 73.3 grade from Pro Football Focus in his first NFL season at center. He led Alabama’s offensive line in 2016 and 2017 at center, but switched to guard after being drafted by the Ravens in 2018. Bozeman then started all 16 games at left guard for Baltimore in 2019 and 2020, but switched back to center in 2021 with few other options on Baltimore’s roster.
The 27-year-old is also a beloved figure in Baltimore for his charitable work with his wife, Nikki, earning Bozeman back-to-back nominations for the NFL’s prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2020 and 2021.
Bozeman will join a revamped offensive line in Carolina, with guard Austin Corbett arriving from the Los Angeles Rams and the Panthers pursuing five-time Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown, per ESPN’s David Newton.
But Bozeman’s departure will leave a 317-pound hole in the middle of Baltimore’s offensive line, as the Ravens have struggled to find consistency at center since the departure of Pro Bowler Ryan Jensen in 2018. Bozeman brought stability to the position, finishing with the second-best pass block win rate and the seventh-best run block win rate among all league centers in 2021, per ESPN.
Now, the Ravens will be looking for another answer at center, perhaps a long-term one that won’t require annual reevaluation.
Ravens’ Other Options at Center
The Ravens currently have two players who can line up at center on their roster in Patrick Mekari and Trystan Colon. Both players went undrafted out of college, but earned roster spots with their ability to play multiple positions along the offensive line. Mekari’s positional versatility has been especially useful in Baltimore; his 12 solid starts at right tackle were vital to keeping the offensive line afloat after the loss of All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
It’s unclear, though, if either Mekari or Colon profile as a starting center for the Ravens in 2022. Colon replaced an ill Bozeman for one game in 2021, acquitting himself well against a talented Los Angeles Rams defensive line with only one pressure allowed, per PFF. But he’ll have to make massive strides this offseason and put up strong showings in training camp and the preseason to earn the starting job.
Mekari, with 13 starts at center in his career, is a more likely in-house option, but Ravens fans still have nightmares from the errant snap that resulted in a concussion to Lamar Jackson during a 2020 playoff game. But if Mekari can clean up his snaps, he could surprise observers as he did in 2021, when he successfully blocked top pass rushers like Von Miller and Joey Bosa, earning a three-year extension in the process.
With offensive tackle Morgan Moses signing with the Ravens on March 15, Mekari may not be needed at right tackle in 2022, potentially leading to a switch back to center.
Few Free Agent Centers Still Available
However, the Ravens could see Mekari as a valuable sixth offensive lineman, capable of slotting in at all five positions in an emergency. In that case, they may not want to lock him in as their starting center and instead pursue a veteran free agent.
Baltimore was rumored to be pursuing a reunion with Ryan Jensen this offseason, but he re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after Tom Brady reversed his decision to retire from the NFL.
The Ravens could swap centers with the Panthers by pursuing seven-year veteran Matt Paradis, but he would be a substantial downgrade from Bozeman, especially in pass protection.
Instead, Baltimore would be wise to consider NFLPA president J.C. Tretter, who was recently released by the Cleveland Browns. He might even be an upgrade over Bozeman, with better PFF grades in 2021 and far more time at center in the NFL.