4-time Pro Bowl Defender Wants to Return to Ravens in 2023

Ravens OLB Justin Houston

Getty Ravens OLB Justin Houston is officially leaving the AFC North for the NFC South.

After a resurgent 2022 season in which he led the team in sacks, Baltimore Ravens veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston feels rejuvenated and would not only like to continue his playing career but prefers to do so in Charm City for a third season in a row.

“The way I feel right now – I’ll be back,” Houston said in his postgame press conference on January 15, 2023. “We’ll see if the chips work out, and I’ll be here. That’s out of my control. We’ll see what they do. I’d like to be back here.”

The four-time Pro Bowler’s 9.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hits in the regular season both led the team and were his most since 2019. He also recorded another sack, a quarterback hit, and a tackle for loss and was the second highest rated player on the according to Pro Football Focus in the team’s 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wildcard round of the playoffs.

Even though he is slated to turn 34 on Jan. 21 and is one of several notable impending free agents, he proved this past season that he can still not only be highly productive but also serve as a tremendous mentor for the Ravens’ young edge defenders. He has been instrumental in the development of second-year pro Odafe Oweh had his best game of the year in the postseason with a sack, a pair of solo tackles, a tackle for loss, and a quarterback hit.

Houston earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording 2.5 sacks and an interception against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9 and set a franchise record for consecutive games with 2 or more sacks with three in a row from Week 7 to 9.

This fall would mark his 13th season in the league and heading his 12th, he didn’t report to the team until training camp and intends on taking a similar approach in terms of taking some but not a lot of time off while staying in shape.

“I’ll take a couple of weeks off just to let my body rest,” Houston said. “I’ll just pray and talk to God and let him guide me through the offseason, and then I’ll get back to work. I don’t take too much time off, because it’s hard to get it started once you cut it off, so I try not to even let it cut off, I let it keep running. I’m going to work out still, and let’s see what happens.”

Unfinished Business Still Looming 

His resume for candidacy to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is already pretty strong with the milestones that he has accomplished in his career that include leading the league in sacks one year, recording 111.5 sacks overall in his career, and making multiple Pro Bowls. However, one accomplishment that will now have eluded him for the 12th straight year in a row is a championship that he believes he can finally achieve with the Ravens.

“This is not my first rodeo. I’ve been in this situation more than I would like,” Houston said. “So, you grow from it. Even though it’s tough right now, you can’t let it keep you down. You have to use this as motivation to keep going, find a way to let this make you a better person, learn from this, learn from your mistakes.

“A lot of guys don’t get this opportunity. We had an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl, but we fell short. You just build from it and grow from it and move forward. Anytime you make it to the playoffs and have the opportunity to go chase a Super Bowl, it’s very fun. It wasn’t the outcome I would like or desired it to be, but it was fun.”

The Ravens assigned the rarely used unrestricted free-agent tender to Houston in May of last year after he remained unsigned into the summer. After he nearly notched a double-digit sack season in 2022, his price tag, should he return, will likely be significantly higher. In addition to Oweh, the Ravens will also be returning six-year veteran Tyus Bowser and promising 2022 second-round pick David Ojabo so the cupboards are far from bare at the position.

All Pro Linebacker Believes Ravens Were the ‘Better Team’

In a game where hardly anybody outside of the organization believed that they would be able to hang around or have a chance to win, the Ravens had the Bengals on the ropes Sunday night before one disastrous offensive play turned the tide of the game.

On offense, they outgained Cincinnati (364-234), and ran for over 150 yards on the ground, Tyler Huntley had the game of his life by outdueling Joe Burrow and making several big plays in the passing game. Their vaunted defense carried over their strong finish to the regular season into the playoffs by holding their rivals to just 51 yards on the ground, limiting Burrow to a meager 209 passing yards, and holding them under 20 points.

After the game, First-Team All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith said that he believed that the Ravens were the better team “for sure” that night but acknowledged that the best team doesn’t always win.

“Those guys ended up making a play or two more than we did,” he said in his postgame press conference. “They get to advance, we don’t. It’s just more motivation for this offseason and going into next season. We’ll see them again.”

Despite the deflating defeat that came in gut-wrenching fashion, Smith firmly and wholeheartedly believes that the Ravens can “absolutely” build off what they accomplished this past season considering all the adversity they had to overcome. Whether it was defying long odds or losing their star quarterback down the stretch for the second straight season, they fought and were in every game until the end.

“You can’t dwell, you can’t get down about it. It’s life. You’re going to face adversity all throughout – and in various ways – all throughout your life,” he said. “I think we faced adversity throughout the game. And with the loss, obviously, it’s adversity as well. It’s about how we’re going to respond next year [and] letting this motivate us this offseason because we know how good we can be here.”