Ravens Free Up Cap Space With Tavon Young Release, Alejandro Villanueva Retirement

The Ravens released cornerback Tavon Young and placed offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva on the reserve/retired list on March 9, freeing up more than $11 million in salary cap space as they prepare for the start of free agency next week.

The moves were seen as two of the most likely ways the Ravens could create some badly needed cap room as they try to rebuild their roster after an injury-marred 8-9 season that ended with six straight losses.

Young, who turns 27 next week, had one year left on a four-year contract extension he had signed in 2019. He carried a cap hit of roughly $9.1 million for the 2022 season, and the Ravens save about $5.8 million with his release, absorbing $3.3 million in dead money.

Villanueva, meanwhile, had one year left on two-year contract he signed with the Ravens before last season. His retirement frees up $6 million in cap space.

The moves leave the Ravens roughly $16 million under the 2022 salary cap of $208.2 million.

The so-called legal tampering period, when pending free agents can begin discussions with other teams through their agents, begins March 14, and free agency officially begins March 16.

A native of Oxon Hill, Md., and fourth-round pick by the Ravens in 2016 out of Temple, Young made a positive first impression on Ravens fans by driving to the M&T Bank Stadium draft party on the day he was selected.

He then started 11 games as a rookie and appeared on his way to establishing himself as a top slot cornerback who played bigger than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound size. But he struggled to stay healthy, missing nearly three full seasons with injures.

He missed the entire 2017 season after tearing his ACL in a noncontact spring drill, then returned to play in 15 games in 2018. He scored two touchdowns that year on fumble recoveries and also had the first two sacks of his career.

General manager Eric DeCosta rewarded Young with a contract extension the following spring, but Young missed the entire 2019 season with a neck injury. He returned to action in 2020, but was sidelined after just two games by a knee injury.

This year, the oft-injured Young proved to be one of the more durable players on a team riddled with injuries. He was the only cornerback to play in all 17 games, registering 34 tackles, two sacks and an interception.

For his perseverance through three major injuries, Ravens teammates selected Young as the 2021 winner of the Ed Block Courage Award.

“Thank you Baltimore. Love from my side forever,” Young tweeted after being released.

Villanueva, 33, was signed by the Ravens after Orlando Brown Jr. was traded away and was penciled in as the starting right tackle. However, All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley was shut down after just one game because of a setback on his surgically repaired ankle, and Villanueva moved back to left tackle, the position he had played for six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Villanueva, though, struggled to contain speed rushers, and the Ravens’ offensive line struggled much of the season to find the right combination. The Ravens allowed 57 sacks, the most in team history.

No one can question Villanueva’s toughness, though; the West Point graduate served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for rescuing wounded soldiers while under enemy fire.

Originally signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie free agent, Villanueva later landed on the Steelers’ practice squad and then made the Steelers 53-man roster in 2015. He never missed a game from then on, appearing in all 113 games played by his team from 2015-21.

Villanueva’s decision tor retire, while expected, leaves the Ravens dangerously thin at tackle given that Stanley’s availability for the fall is still uncertain.

DeCosta has said strengthening the offensive line is a top offseason priority, and many draft analysts expect the Ravens to select a tackle with the No. 14 overall pick. Among those linked to the Ravens in that spot are Trevor Penning of Northern Iowa and Charles Cross of Mississippi State.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

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