The Baltimore Ravens made continued with the trend of prioritizing their own affordable free agents ahead of the start of the new league year which has since passed at 4 p.m. EST on March 15, 2023.
According to a report from ESPN insider Adam Schefter, they are re-signing veteran running back Justice Hill to a two-year deal worth $4.5 million with a maximum value of $5 million.
The former fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2019 has been a core and key member of the Ravens’ special teams unit in two of the last three seasons both as a gunner and returner. He has also been an underrated and underutilized asset in the backfield rotation in his first four seasons in the league.
Hill is coming off a career-best season in terms of both offensive production in which he appeared in 15 games and recorded 262 rushing yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and caught all 12 of his targets for 58 receiving yards according to Pro Football Reference.
Ravens Place Surprisingly Low Tender on Pro Bowl QB
The team currently has some uncertainty surrounding their ongoing negotiations with former unanimous league-MVP, Lamar Jackson, given that he is now free to communicate and negotiate as is allowed under the nonexclusive franchise tag they opted to place on him.
This fact made their decision to place the low restricted free agent tender as reported by The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec a little surprising. Even though “he was viewed as the most likely of the six Ravens (restricted free agents to get tendered”, the one-year contract worth $2.627 million took a few by surprise.
Just like with Jackson and his nonexclusive tag designation, the Ravens will have the right to match any offer sheet but would get no compensation for Huntley if they don’t.
The former undrafted free agent has until April 21 to get signed to an offer sheet from another team and if he signs it, the Ravens will have seven days to match or risk not receiving any compensation in return.
According to a report from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Ravens had reached out and were “involved” in the veteran quarterback market. Their inquiries included “looking into options such as Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett” prior to their signings with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Commanders respectively.
Huntley has appeared in 15 games the past two seasons and made 8 starts, compiling a 3-5 record as a starter. In his career, he has thrown for 1,754 passing yards and 5 touchdowns to 7 interceptions and has rushed for 454 yards and 3 touchdowns according to Pro Football Reference.
Even though he has a Pro Bowl nod on his resume, it came as a fourth alternate. The offense sputtered at times and averaged just 12.6 points a game with him at the helm in 2o22 including the playoffs.
Given those facts, it’s understandable why the Ravens would be willing to explore other options in the event that Jackson is either signed to an offer sheet they’re unwilling to match or if he decides to hold out instead of play on the tag.
Ravens Could Still Address Both Positions in the 2023 Draft
The signing of Hill and tendering of Huntley in no way precludes the team from potentially adding another player at each position in next month’s draft. Adding inexpensive rookies at both positions makes perfect sense for the Ravens not to explore and potentially execute.
With his re-signing, Hill is the only running back on the current roster that is signed beyond the 2023 season as both Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins are entering the final years of their respective deals.
Dobbins, in particular, could potentially have a monster season in the last year of his rookie deal in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme that emphasizes using dynamic playmakers in space.
Depending on what happens with Jackson between now and this time next year, the former second-round pick in 2020 out of Ohio State could price himself out of the Ravens’ price range if they’re cap-strapped ahead of free agency for the second year in a row.
While using one of their picks in the first two days of the NFL draft on a quarterback would folly unless Jackson is signed to an offer sheet before then, taking one on day threw would make sense.
A prospect like Stetson Bennett who won two national titles with Monken at Georgia would be an ideal fourth or fifth-round target which is where he is currently being projected to come off the board. This year’s draft class is also deep at running back and the Ravens could find a useful contributor on day three as well.
2 Former Ravens From 2018 Draft Class Find New Homes
The team’s last draft with former general manager Ozzie Newsome at the helm was one of the best in franchise history. It yielded several high-quality to upper-echelon and even elite starters from the first round to the seventh.
That illustrious draft class included the likes of 2019 unanimous league MVP Lamar Jackson, three-time Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrew, and four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
Two more have found new homes as tight end Hayden Hurst signed a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Carolina Panthers and safety Deshon Elliott signed with the Miami Dolphins according to reports.
Hurst was the team’s first of two picks in the first round at No. 25 overall that year out of South Carolina and spent two seasons with the team before requesting a trade and having it granted in the 2020 offseason.
Elliott was taken in the sixth round at No. 190 overall out of Texas and overcame injuries and worked his way into a starting role from 2020-2021 before departing in free agency last offseason.