The Ravens on Monday announced the signings of cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Al-Hajj Shabazz, while releasing veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington, who missed all last season with a concussion.
The moves add to a defensive backfield overhaul, which coach John Harbaugh and the team’s front office executives have emphasized throughout the offseason.
“We have gone after a portion of our team, the back end, the secondary, with a vengeance,” Harbaugh said in April after the team drafted Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round. “We have done a great job as an organization in terms of getting that done. We have some really good players back there, and there is going to be competition. We are going to be darn tough to throw the ball against.”
Boykin, 26, entering his sixth professional season, will be an option to fill the void Young, a fourth-round draft pick in 2016, left as the Ravens’ top option in the slot.
The 5-foot-9, 183-pound player, a 2012 fourth-round pick from Georgia, missed all last season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle during training camp with the Chicago Bears.
Before that, he had not missed a game while playing for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2012 to 2014 and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015. He signed with the Carolina Panthers during free agency in 2016, but was cut about two months later and joined the Bears.
Boykin’s best year was 2013, when he intercepted six passes, made 42 tackles and forced two fumbles. He’s had two interceptions and 52 combined tackles in three seasons since and has started seven of 67 career games.
Shabazz, 24, has played for the Indianapolis Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Steelers and Houston Texans in practice squad and special teams roles. The 2015 undrafted free agent from West Chester (Pa.) has played eight games and made one tackle.
“We feel like when you go through a season, you just can’t have your starting 11 on offense or defense,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in April. “You have to have good backups because from week to week, guys may not be able to play, and if you have good depth, then you do not get concerned about it. Having depth at corner is huge.”
Arrington’s release, meanwhile, ends his disappointing tenure in Baltimore and creates $2.1 million in salary cap space.
He originally signed a three-year, $7 million contract with the Ravens in 2015, starting four games that season, but he struggled throughout the year and accepted a pay cut the following offseason.
Arrington, 30, suffered a concussion during the preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers last August and spent the year on injured reserve. The Accokeek native and former Gwynn Park standout was not around the team for the rest of 2016.
Baltimore released Arrington on Monday with a “failed physical designation” to continue the secondary’s revamp.
This offseason the Ravens have also cut Shareece Wright, Kendrick Lewis and Lardarius Webb — who later re-signed — and didn’t re-sign free agents Matt Elam, Chris Lewis-Harris and Jerraud Powers.
They added cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson in free agency, and added Humphrey in the first round of the draft.
Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta praised Humphrey’s physicality, size, blitzing ability and experience in the Crimson Tide’s high-profile program as assets that should help him complement Carr and Jimmy Smith, the starting cornerback duo during OTAs.
Smith, however, has battled injuries during his six seasons. He’s played all 16 games just twice, often leaving the Ravens’ defensive backfield vulnerable against top offenses, including two AFC North foes: the Steelers with wide receiver Antonio Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals with wide receiver A.J. Green.
That’s why the Ravens aimed to build secondary depth and experience with moves like Boykin’s and Shabazz’s arrivals.
“One of our main focuses this offseason was to really work and improve the secondary and the pass rush, really critical things,” DeCosta said after the draft. “We’ve been able to do that, but as Ozzie and John said, we’re not done yet.”