What Happened To Former Ravens Center Bradley Bozeman’s Market In Free Agency?

In the weeks leading up to free agency, Ravens center Bradley Bozeman was considered one of the better prizes once the market opened in mid-March. The Athletic ranked Bozeman No. 28 overall among pending free agents and No. 2 among centers behind Brian Allen of the Los Angeles Rams. ESPN ranked Bozeman No. 31 overall and No. 2 among centers behind Ryan Jensen of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Fast forward a few weeks. Allen re-signed with the Rams for three years and $18 million. Not long after Tom Brady unretired, Jensen re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for three years and $39 million. Bozeman, meanwhile, found a cool market and wound up signing a one-year deal worth up to $2.8 million with the Carolina Panthers.

That deal has left many people, including, probably, Bradley Bozeman, wondering what the heck happened? Why did Bozeman’s market crash so hard? How did he end up with a deal that, according to spotrac.com, which tracks player contracts, ranks 22nd among centers in average annual value?

It seems the most likely answer is that Bozeman’s agency misread the market for him, market forces of supply and demand conspired against him, and after Bozeman declined an extension offer from the Ravens, whatever acrimony developed between the two sides persisted into free agency.

DeCosta and his predecessor, Ozzie Newsome, have long held to the mantra of right player, right price, and $2.8 million seems an extremely reasonable price for a proven starting center. That begs the question of whether the Ravens viewed Bozeman as the right player after he had declined their offer.

Bozeman, 27, has started each of the past three seasons, with two at left guard and one at center. With Bozeman up front, the Ravens’ running game became the most prolific in NFL history, recording a league-record 3,296 yards in 2019 en route to 14-2 record. They ran for 3,071 the following year.

Bozeman started 48 of 49 games during the past three years, missing one game this past season because of illness. Pro Football Focus ranked Bozeman 11th among NFL centers and No. 5 among centers in pass blocking. 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.

He has also been among the Ravens’ most civic-minded players and was named the team’s NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee each of the past two years.

With that resume, Bozeman’s camp was thought to be pushing for top-10 center money. According to spotrac, eight centers are making at least $10 million in average annual value. However, the center market shifted in a hurry.

Allen re-signed. Jensen re-signed. So too did Tennessee center Ben Jones (two years, $14 million). The Cincinnati Bengals, in the market for a center, signed Ted Karras (three years, $18 million). Demand shrank with fewer teams needing a center, and word was out that Bozeman was seeking top dollar. The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, released J.C. Tretter, adding another starting center to the supply.

The Ravens have aggressively re-signed their own during DeCosta’s tenure — something DeCosta emphasized at his season-ending news conference — and in fact gave versatile offensive lineman Patrick Mekari a three-year, $15 million extension in January.

The Ravens made an initial offer to Bozeman that his camp viewed as lowball, but that wouldn’t be the first time that an organization and player traded widely disparate numbers early in the negotiation process. Sometimes, the two sides hammer out a compromise. It appears that never came close to happening in Bozeman’s case.

At a news conference the day after the season ended, Bozeman grew emotional when he recalled his career in Baltimore, an indication that he thought his time with the Ravens was likely over.

Where do both parties go from here?

DeCosta stressed that the offensive line would be a focus this offseason, and now he has to add the center position to the list of concerns. Mekari, who started five games at center in 2020 before moving to right tackle this year, would be an in-house option, as would Trystan Colon, who has made three starts in his two-year career.

The Ravens could look for immediate help in the draft, and Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum has been linked to the Ravens with the No. 14 pick in many mock drafts. The Ravens could also look to sign a veteran, but any free-agent signing at or above Bozeman’s Carolina salary would also raise eyebrows.

Bozeman, meanwhile, will have a prove-it year with Carolina, which might have gotten a steal in a durable, starting center for below $3 million. If he plays well, Bozeman could earn an extension with the Panthers, or he could take his chances on the open market again next spring.

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox

Bo Smolka

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