A day after signing pending free agent offensive lineman James Hurst, the Ravens are expected to move on from Austin Howard who started all 16 games for them at right tackle last season.
Howard, who signed with the team early in last year’s training camp about a week after he was released by the Oakland Raiders, helped stabilize a position that had been a major question mark early last summer. However, the Ravens will likely decline his option about seven months after giving him a three-year, $15 million deal.
NFL Network first reported the pending transaction..
The expected move will open up $3 million in much-needed salary cap space for the Ravens, but it adds another question mark along the offensive line, which also could lose starting center Ryan Jensen in free agency.
The Ravens have the options of moving Hurst or projected starting left guard Alex Lewis to right tackle although coach John Harbaugh has said in the past that they’d prefer leaving Lewis at guard. The rest of the starting right tackle candidates on the Ravens roster, a group that includes 2017 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor and Andrew Donnal, a waiver acquisition last November, are young and unproven.
Howard’s departure will increase speculation that the Ravens will use the 16th overall pick in the April draft on a tackle. Among the candidates are Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown Jr. and Texas’ Connor Williams.
Howard, 30, struggled early last season after getting a late start with his new team and having to work himself into better shape following an offseason spent rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Pro Football Focus ranked Howard 36th among offensive tackles in 2017.
As he became more comfortable, Howard got progressively better and proved to be a reliable member of an offense line that allowed just 27 sacks – only six teams surrendered fewer –and paved the way for the NFL’s 11th-best rushing attack.
Howard and Jensen were the only two offensive linemen that started all 16 regular-season games at the same position. Hurst also started all 16 games, but he made one start at left tackle in place of an injured Ronnie Stanley.
Now, Howard is gone and it wouldn’t be surprising if Jensen leaves as well. Stanley is is entrenched at left tackle and Lewis and Marshal Yanda are expected to be healthy and return to their starting guard spots. The Ravens, though, may have to fill openings at center and right tackle.
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Howard has started 88 total games for four different teams. With a relatively weak free-agent tackle market, he should have no problem finding a new NFL home.