The Ravens cut veterans Anthony Levine and Pernell McPhee as well as quarterback Trace McSorley, and traded guard Ben Bredeson to the New York Giants as they slashed the roster to 53 players as required by 4 p.m. on Aug. 31.
Levine and McPhee, though, are likely to return as early as later this week once the Ravens take part in some roster gymnastics related to injured reserve.
The Ravens have several ailing players whose injuries could linger into the regular season, so they are candidates to be placed on injured reserve. However, players must be on the initial 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return from IR later in the season.
Wide receivers Miles Boykin and Rashod Bateman and cornerback Jimmy Smith, among others, are all on the 53-man roster but could be headed to IR this week. According to the IR rules modified before the 2020 season for COVID reasons and retained this year, players can return from IR in as little as four weeks.
At quarterback, the Ravens opted to keep just two quarterbacks (Jackson and Tyler Huntley) for the first time in four years, releasing McSorley and exposing him to waivers. If not claimed, they will try to bring him back to the practice squad.
Undrafted rookie safety Ar’Darius Washington grabbed one of the final roster spots to begin a new streak for the Ravens; last year marked the first time in 17 seasons that the Ravens did not keep any undrafted rookies on the initial 53-man roster. Washington (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) has demonstrated good instincts and a nose for the ball, was one of the top undrafted players in this year’s draft and was not likely to pass through waivers if cut.
Two other big winners out of training camp to make the 53-man roster were cornerback Chris Westry, signed with little fanfare to a reserve/future contract in January, and running back Ty’Son Williams, who might have secured a spot with his play regardless of the season-ending knee injury suffered by J.K. Dobbins.
The 53-man roster is always fluid, and changes are expected within days with players moving to IR. In addition, general manager Eric DeCosta will be monitoring the waiver wire, with hundreds of players let go leaguewide in this final cutdown.
Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week that the Ravens would consider possible additions at running back in the wake of Dobbins’ injury, but he added, “That’s true for every position. … Whatever we can do to make our team better, we’ll do.”
Players who were waived are now exposed to waivers, and the Ravens can begin re-signing players to their practice squad tomorrow afternoon. Vested veterans with four or more years of NFL experience are not exposed to waivers and are free to sign anywhere.
Here’s a breakdown of the Ravens’ initial 53-man roster:
QUARTERBACK (2): Lamar Jackson, Tyler Huntley
The back injury suffered by Trace McSorley all but ended the competition to be Jackson’s backup, but then Huntley went out and decisively claimed the No. 2 quarterback job with two strong preseason games. In the preseason finale, Huntley threw four touchdown passes, ran for another and showed the big arm and escapability that makes him a natural sidekick to Jackson.
The only question was whether the Ravens would keep three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster for a fourth straight year, but given the needs elsewhere, the Ravens opted against that. They will hope McSorley, who was on track to return to practice this week, clears waivers and can return to the team via the practice squad.
Carrying just two quarterbacks has some risk if Jackson remains unvaccinated given the league’s COVID protocols for 2021 for unvaccinated players.
RUNNING BACK (3): Gus Edwards, Ty’Son Williams, Justice Hill
The composition of this group — and the Ravens’ offense in general — was turned on its ear when J.K. Dobbins suffered a torn ACL in the preseason finale at Washington Aug. 28. Williams had clawed his way into a battle with the banged-up Hill for the No. 3 running back spot, and now with Dobbins being placed on season-ending injured reserve, both make the team.
Edwards becomes the No. 1 back, while Williams, who spent last year on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie, is suddenly in line for a significant role. His size (6-0, 220) and power running style fit well in this run-first offense. Hill, who has been nursing an ankle injury that kept him out of the final two preseason games, is probably the top receiver out of the backfield in this group and remains the best special teams player among the trio.
The Ravens will be watching the waiver wire closely, especially since Hill still hasn’t returned to practice. Nate McCrary, a workhorse late in the preseason, should land on the practice squad.
TIGHT END/FULLBACK (4): Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, Josh Oliver, Patrick Ricard (FB)
Boyle was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list Aug. 30, a positive sign since the regular-season PUP list would sideline Boyle through at least Week 6. Oliver, acquired in a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March, won the No. 3 tight end job. Limited to four games during his first two seasons by injuries, Oliver (6-5, 249) gives the Ravens another big target in the passing game.
Ricard has returned to form from his offseason hip surgery and appears slimmer and faster than a year ago. With Ricard ready to go, the Ravens had no room for rookie fifth-round pick Ben Mason, who becomes the first rookie fifth-rounder to be cut since Robert Myers in 2015. Mason should land back on the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVER (7): Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, James Proche, Tylan Wallace, Miles Boykin
Injuries defined the preseason for this group, which has not been on the field together since the first day of training camp. Bateman, coming off groin surgery less than three weeks ago, is likely to move to IR, as is Boykin, whose inclusion here was the biggest question mark.
Boykin, whom the Ravens traded up to grab in the third round three years ago, has been sidelined most of camp by a hamstring injury, but when he’s healthy, his size (6-4, 220) and downfield blocking ability stand out in this group.
Proche was considered to be on the roster bubble when training camp began after losing the punt return job to Duvernay last season and recording one catch all year. But he was the most consistent receiver on the field from start to finish this summer.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Ronnie Stanley, Alejandro Villanueva, Kevin Zeitler, Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Tyre Phillips, Trystan Colon, Ben Cleveland
Powers appears to have won the left guard competition simply by being available. Both Phillips and Cleveland, the third-round rookie projected by many to win the job, were also candidates but have been sidelined at various times by injuries. That competition, though, will continue.
The other four starting spots were never in doubt with Stanley and Villanueva at left and right tackle, respectively, Bozeman at center and the veteran acquisition Zeitler at right guard. The group played only one series together in preseason game action, but this group is trending upward. Stanley, who missed the final 10 games and first three weeks of training camp recovering from ankle surgery, said he expects to be back to an All-Pro level by Week 1.
Mekari locks down a final roster spot with the versatility to play all five positions, and Colon, a natural center, is a backup in the interior.
Just hours before the roster had to be set, the Ravens traded guard Ben Bredeson to the New York Giants, the second deal general manager Eric DeCosta made involving an offensive lineman not likely to make the team. Last week, DeCosta sent veteran Greg Mancz to the Miami Dolphins in a deal involving future draft picks.
DEFENSIVE LINE (5): Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, Justin Madubuike, Broderick Washington
The Ravens often keep six defensive linemen, but they short themselves this year, with Justin Ellis, the most logical backup to Williams at nose tackle, squeezed in the final roster cuts. Ellis, a vested veteran who isn’t subject to waivers, could be another of those players re-signed to the roster after IR moves are made.
It’s an aging group, with the starting trio all on the high side of 30 years old, but Madubuike and Washington have shown big upside this summer and the Ravens frequently shift out of their base defense for packages with just two down linemen. Madubuike has been one of the defensive standouts of training camp, making plays in the offensive backfield seemingly every day.
INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Patrick Queen, Malik Harrison, Chris Board, Kristian Welch
The decisions with this group became easier after L.J. Fort suffered a torn ACL in the preseason game at Carolina. Queen looks faster this year, and he and Harrison have both benefited from their first true preseason. Welch, who played in 12 games last year as an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, probably moved off the bubble in light of Fort’s injury, and he and Board will be core special teams players.
Otaro Alaka was in the mix briefly, but never could return to form after his knee injury and was waived with an injury designation. The Ravens will probably add another player to this group at some point, either a veteran let go somewhere else or a young player signed to the practice squad.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Justin Houston, Tyus Bowser, Odafe Oweh, Daelin Hayes, Jaylon Ferguson
The Ravens have traditionally kept just five outside linebackers, and the signing of Houston this summer firmly put Ferguson on the roster bubble, but Ferguson made a convincing case for a roster spot this summer and the Ravens aren’t ready to give up on the third-year, third-round pick. Instead, they released veteran Pernell McPhee, though it will be no surprise if he returns via the IR-roster gymnastics later this week.
Bowser is back after signing a new deal this summer, and Oweh, the Ravens second first-round pick this year, should have an immediate impact.
CORNERBACK (6): Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, Chris Westry
This deep group thinned out during the summer with season-ending injuries to Iman Marshall and Khalil Dorsey and the release of Davontae Harris. With Jimmy Smith also sidelined by an ankle injury, Chris Westry made the most of his opportunity to seize a final roster spot over Nigel Warrior and Shaun Wade, who was traded to the New England Patriots last week.
At 6-foot-4, Westry has appealing length and has taken on an increasingly large special teams role the past two weeks, another good sign of his roster status.
When healthy, this ranks among the best cornerback groups in the league. Humphrey and Smith have both been hobbled this summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased that oft-injured nickel back Tavon Young had a strong, healthy camp.
SAFETY (5): Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone, Ar’Darius Washingon
Clark, Elliott and the rookie third-round pick Stephens were roster locks, and Stephens is a versatile player who showed a lot of upside as he converts from collegiate corner to pro safety. Geno Stone had two interceptions in the preseason opener and his stock continued to rise, while Washington was around the ball almost every practice and makes the team as an undrafted rookie out of TCU.
Anthony Levine, the de facto special teams captains for years, is a notable absence here, but the third-longest tenured Raven is likely to return after IR moves are made.
SPECIALISTS (3): Sam Koch, Justin Tucker, Nick Moore
Zero suspense here, with the news being Moore succeeds longtime long-snapper Morgan Cox. Moore was on the practice squad all last year, and the group’s operation this summer has looked seamless, which is exactly you want with a new long-snapper. Kicker Jake Verity showed a big leg, but a missed 40-yarder at Washington probably scuttled any hopes the Ravens had that they could move him for a draft pick. Still, Ravens summertime kickers have produced elsewhere, and Tucker believes the rookie from East Carolina will be on a 53-man roster somewhere soon.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox