The Ravens now have a significant hole at a key spot on their offensive line.
Rick Wagner, one of the team’s top pending unrestricted free agents, will sign with the Detroit Lions when free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. Thursday. NFL Network reported that Williams will make more than $9 million per season.
The new deal solidifies him as one of the league’s highest paid right tackles. Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles is the highest paid right tackle at $11.25 million per year, but the plan is for him to eventually move to left tackle.
A fifth-round pick in 2013, Wagner became the team’s starting right tackle in 2014 when Michael Oher departed in free agency. From 2014 to 2016, Wagner started 45 of the Ravens’ 48 games, providing stability and solid play on the right side of the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus graded Wagner as one of the game’s best right tackles in both 2014 and 2016. A Lisfranc foot sprain late in the 2014 season forced Wagner to miss the regular-season finale and both playoff games.
He returned and played in all 16 games in 2015 although he struggled to find his previous season’s form. The coaching staff attributed it to the effects of foot surgery.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at last week’s NFL scouting combine that the team was negotiating to re-sign Wagner. However, it was viewed as a long shot from the beginning of the offseason that he would return. With the number of teams in the market for offensive tackle upgrades and so much salary cap space around the league, it was assumed that the Ravens would be priced out on Wagner.
Still, his departure leaves the Ravens with yet another hole to fill and more questions along the offensive line. Harbaugh said a few different teams this offseason that the team would prioritize upgrading the offensive line, viewing it as one of the keys to fixing the run game and making quarterback Joe Flacco more comfortable.
The Ravens feel good about the left side of their offensive line with tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis entering their second seasons. Right guard Marshal Yanda is a perennial Pro Bowl selection and arguably the top guard in the AFC. However, the Ravens are believed to be looking into upgrading at center where Jeremy Zuttah has started the last three seasons.
They’ll also need to find a right tackle. The potential internal replacements for Wagner are James Hurst, De’Ondre Wesley and Stephane Nembot. The Ravens gave Hurst an original-round restricted free agent tender yesterday. Both Wesley and Nembot are raw and considering projects and spent last season on injured reserve.
The Ravens could be forced to sign a veteran free agent tackle or draft one out of a relatively weak class.