Bradley Bozeman has evolved from sixth-round draft pick to NFL stalwart and civic treasure in four years with the Ravens. But has this adopted son of Baltimore priced his way out of Baltimore?
Bozeman, whose four-year rookie contract is expiring, represents one of the more intriguing decisions facing general manager Eric DeCosta with free agency looming in less than two months. Will the Ravens show the door to their two-time Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee?
On an offensive line that struggled mightily in 2021 — the Ravens allowed a franchise-record 57 sacks — Bozeman was a consistent, steadying force. The Ravens already face major questions at both tackle positions and possibly at left guard. Do they want to add center to their list of needs?
Yet retaining Bozeman won’t come cheap, and as with everything else, DeCosta has salary cap constraints and quarterback Lamar Jackson’s potential contract extension looming above all. Even if Jackson’s extension doesn’t happen, his cap figure will balloon by $20 million in 2022 as he plays out his fifth-year option.
In addition to Bozeman, DeCosta has other in-house pending free agents to consider re-signing as well as the Ravens look to rebound from an injury-ravaged 8-9 season. That group includes fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive lineman Calais Campbell (should he opt to return for a 15th NFL season), defensive lineman Brandon Williams, cornerback Anthony Averett and safety DeShon Elliott.
Bozeman, 27, started every game in 2019 and 2020 at left guard before moving this past season to center, the position he had played collegiately at Alabama. He missed just one game in the past three years.
Pro Football Focus ranked Bozeman No. 11 overall and No. 5 in pass blocking among centers this past year, while ESPN listed Bozeman No. 2 among centers in pass block win rate, which measures whether a lineman can sustain his block for 2.5 seconds or longer.
As a left guard, Bozeman was instrumental in the Ravens’ record-breaking running game led by Jackson the previous two seasons.
Bozeman has also been named the Ravens’ Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee two years in a row for his civic outreach. Along with his wife, Nikki, Bozeman has a driving force behind food drives that have served hundreds of thousands of meals to Baltimore families, and the Bozemans have also delivered anti-bullying messages at school assemblies.
The Ravens though, aren’t long on sentiment when it comes to free agency decisions. They have let some of the most beloved players on the team walk away, and if Bozeman can’t fit the team’s “right player, right price” mantra, then he will be wearing a different uniform next year.
There’s little doubt that as a former sixth-round pick, Bozeman has proved to be the right player. But what’s the right price? That’s the $10 million question.
Ten centers have contracts worth at least $10 million in average annual value, according to spotrac.com, which tracks player salaries. All-Pro Corey Linsley set the market last year with a five-year, $62.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Bozeman might not reach that top end, but on the open market, he could find a deal north of $10 million a year.
The team and Bozeman have had discussions about a new contract during the past year, but it’s believed that a significant gap between the two sides continues to exist.
Bozeman has declined to discuss his contract situation when asked, and in a video news conference after the season said that, “We’ll let our agents handle all the back-end stuff and we’ll see what happens.”
“One of the things he can’t control is what one organization is willing to offer him versus another,” said Bozeman’s agent, Seth Katz. “This business is about maximizing opportunity. Coaches make decisions that are best for them. GMs make decisions that are best for them, and Bradley needs to make a decision that’s best for him and Nikki and their family.”
If Bozeman were to leave, the Ravens could look to super-utility lineman Patrick Mekari at center. Mekari, recently signed to a three-year contract extension, made five starts at center last year before moving to right tackle this season. The Ravens also figure to re-sign exclusive-rights free agent center Trystan Colon, who has started three games in his two NFL seasons.
The Ravens have been linked to Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum with the No. 14 overall pick in early mock drafts, though the team has never selected a center in the first round.
Regardless of his future, Bozeman said he said felt “very blessed” to have spent four years with the Ravens and during his postseason news conference, he choked up as he recalled his time in Baltimore.
“It’s been a great place for me,” he said.
“The city has just opened its arms to us,” Bozeman added, describing how his foundation has served more than 3 million meals in Baltimore.
“We’ve done so many great things with this city in mind, and it’s been amazing,” Bozeman said. “It’s been an amazing journey. [I’m] just so, so, so grateful and blessed to have called myself a Raven for the last four years. I hope it’s the next four more, but we don’t really know right now.”
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