Maybe years from now, Ravens inside linebacker Josh Bynes will look back on his career and breathe a sigh of relief.

And then he’ll shake his head in amazement.


Bynes, 30, has played nine seasons in the NFL, sometimes as a starter, which isn’t unusual until you learn he was undrafted out of Auburn. But he started against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, just four days after signing, and might have turned in the best performance of the season from any Ravens inside linebacker.

That doesn’t say a lot about the other inside linebackers, but it speaks volumes about Bynes. He took 42 snaps and finished with five tackles Sunday. He played well in coverage, and his interception led to the Ravens’ first touchdown of the game.

“I was sore Monday. I ain’t going to lie to you,” said Bynes, who didn’t participate in any team’s 2019 training camp. “I just tried to hone in and let my instincts take over. I knew that crowd and the situation.

“My mind was racing one thousand miles per hour,” added Bynes, who played for the Ravens from 2011 through 2013. “I guess I’ve never taken the time to just sit back and appreciate the moments. I am always looking for ways for my team and me to get better.”

If the Ravens can pull out of this defensive funk, the change might be traced back to Bynes. The caliber of play from the linebackers has ranged from poor to average recently. That led to the dismissal of third-year outside linebacker Tim Williams, as well as the team cutting back on the playing time of second-year weak-side linebackers Chris Board and Kenny Young.

Bynes is now in the middle, which allows Patrick Onwuasor to move back to his natural position on the weak side. The Ravens defense isn’t guaranteed success, but at least play improved against a weak Pittsburgh offense.

Onwuasor finished with seven tackles Sunday in one of his better games.

“I feel like it was great,” Onwuasor said of playing next to Bynes. “He’s a true [middle] linebacker. He communicates a lot. When he sees things, he lets me know, and I let him know. I feel like we’re playing way faster with him on the field, and we’re getting a lot of stuff done.”

The signing of Bynes showed desperation but also the team’s confidence in the Florida native. Since leaving the Ravens, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Bynes has been with the Detroit Lions and Arizona Cardinals.

The Ravens signed Bynes to a one-year contract. According to Bynes, that’s nothing new. There have been at least three times in his career where he didn’t go to training camp and eventually signed with a team. The Ravens cut him once during training camp in his rookie year and later signed him to the practice squad.

“Yes, this is kind of surreal sometimes, my ninth season being in the NFL,” Bynes said. “It’s crazy. Every year has its own obstacles. For some reason, I have to find a way to conquer those obstacles and do whatever is asked of me when those times come.”

It’s hard to imagine because it’s as if Bynes gets fired at the end of every season. He can’t take another full-time job because he doesn’t know when — or if — another team will call him.

He has to keep training. He has to stay in a positive frame of mind, and always keep his eyes and ears near the phone because he doesn’t know when an Ozzie Newsome or Eric DeCosta will call.

It’s the NFL’s version of being on high alert.


“This happened to me in 2017 in Arizona, and then I get the call,” Bynes said. “Everything worked out for me in 2018, but then they brought in a new staff and I became a casualty of the new staff.

“This happened to me when I was a rookie. I got cut, I was undrafted and I thought I might be done. I was two seconds away from saying it was over, and then I get a call from Ozzie and I’ve been in the league ever since. That call taught me that I always had to be ready. I thought after last season I had some time left. I just needed the opportunity.”

Bynes is a realist. During the offseason, he participates in internships with several companies, including the NFL and the league’s players association. There is always a chance some team won’t pick him up or an injury could cost him his career.

He likes being back in Baltimore.

“Sometimes you leave and don’t come back, so I am very grateful for the opportunity given to me by the team,” Bynes said.

Bynes didn’t know he was starting Sunday. While sitting at home, he watched games keeping an eye on former teams and teammates. Bynes observed as a coach, not a fan, because he wanted to analyze trends and schemes.

He stayed in shape and worked out for teams, but never got a deal.

“Those workouts are nothing unless there is something concrete,” Bynes said. “I didn’t know I was starting until game time. We had done some things, but I always prepared, even when I was a pup in this league, as if I was the starter. I always put myself in that position because you never know when you’re going to be on the field.

“It was good to get that first snap or two out of the way. I was more or less relying on instincts. I was familiar with some things and little things have changed here and there. Coverages and calls are different from team to team, but it’s all a matter of getting familiar with the team and the people you are playing with.”

Bynes likes what he sees in Onwuasor. He likes his speed and instincts and is aware Onwuasor was calling signals for the first time this season. Against Pittsburgh, Bynes said it was more of a collective effort with Onwuasor as far as setting the defense.

Bynes isn’t one of these players brought in just to bolster special teams. He has been a starter twice in Baltimore and once backed up Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. He had great battles for playing time with former Raven Jameel McClain.

In nine years, Bynes has 337 tackles.

“Peanut is still a young player, still learning the game, honing in on the little things,” Bynes said of Onwuasor. “As the meetings increase and we play more games, he’ll get better.

“I always look forward to a challenge, both mentally and physically. It’s nice to see some familiar faces again.”

The Ravens are happier to see Bynes.

“That’s why he’s been around this league for so long,” Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “It was very impressive, and it wasn’t that he just got up to speed; he was out there leading. Kudos to him for being ready whenever his name was called upon. He did an excellent job of stepping in and filling a void that we needed.”