The Ravens answered one of their significant roster questions Sunday: Devin Hester will be their primary return man. The NFL's all-time leader in return touchdowns agreed in principle to a one-year deal with the team after working out for it over the previous two days.
All indications are they'll answer another before the team returns to practice Tuesday and continues preparations for the regular-season opener Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. The expectation remains that the team will re-sign running back Justin Forsett as early as today.
Forsett, 30, was the most surprising release Saturday when the team got down to 53 players. He had taken repetitions with the first-team offense throughout training camp and he was given other luxuries afforded to veteran starters, such as periodic days off from practice and not playing in the first and fourth preseason games. His departure also left the Ravens with just two healthy running backs: Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) and Buck Allen. That's not significant now because the players are off until Tuesday, but it will become a more pressing question as the team gets closer to Sunday's game.
However, Forsett's release appears to be a calculated gamble by the Ravens, who bought a little more time and an extra roster spot for a couple of days. The expectation all along was that Forsett will return to the organization, where he resurrected his career with a 1,266-yard and eight-touchdown season in 2014.
But in his stead, the Ravens were able to keep injured defensive tackle Carl Davis (ankle) and safety Matt Elam (ankle) on the roster. Both players now can be placed on injured reserve and eligible to return at some point this season.
Under league rules, the Ravens are allowed to bring one player back from injured reserve, but that player couldn't have gone on IR until after 4 p.m. Sunday. The Ravens now have that option with Davis and Elam, who are expected to go on IR to accommodate Hester's signing and Forsett's return.
It is unclear what this will mean for Forsett's contract, as he was entering the second year of a three-year, $9 million deal. However, the contract was terminated with Forsett's release. Whether the Ravens re-sign Forsett on the same deal or rework his contract remains to be seen.
The most important news is that the veteran running back should be an important part of their offense Sunday against the Bills, as he and West figure to be the team's top ball carriers; Kenneth Dixon, a fourth-round draft pick, is sidelined with a torn MCL.
A day after waiving 13 players, the Ravens brought back eight of them to the practice squad, including wide receiver Keenan Reynolds and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Their practice squad also includes quarterback David Fales, who worked with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman when they were both with the Chicago Bears in 2014.
The Ravens' activity Sunday during another busy day throughout the NFL provided few clues, and coach John Harbaugh isn't scheduled to address reporters again until Tuesday. The Ravens, who had the sixth overall waiver claim because of their 5-11 season last year, were not awarded any claims.
They did, however, watch two of their former early draft picks, who were let go Saturday, get claimed by other teams. Inside linebacker Arthur Brown, a second-round pick in 2013, was snapped up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens' Week 3 opponent. Safety Terrence Brooks, a 2014 third-round pick, was awarded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Both players failed to earn the coaching staff's trust on defense in Baltimore.
The rest of the young players the Ravens cut, a group headlined by Reynolds, cleared waivers Sunday. The team promptly re-signed Reynolds to the practice squad, giving the former Navy star quarterback more time to make the transition into an NFL wide receiver.
Other members of the practice squad are running back Stephen Houston, tight end Daniel Brown, offensive linemen Matt Skura and Blaine Clausell, linebackers Brennen Beyer and Patrick Onwuasor, and Lewis-Moore.
The Ravens filled the ninth practice-squad spot and added a third quarterback by signing Fales, who was drafted by the Bears out of San Jose State in the sixth round in 2014. Fales has yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.
The team was unable to bring back two players who flashed for them in the preseason. Wide receiver Jeremy Butler, who caught 31 passes in eight regular-season games last year and led the team in receiving this preseason, turned down the Ravens' practice-squad offer to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad.
Outside linebacker Victor Ochi, an undrafted rookie out of Stony Brook who had two sacks in the preseason, signed with the New York Jets.
The Ravens, though, had to be pleased to add a proven returner, after they gave nine players either kick- or punt-return repetitions in the preseason and none of them seized the job. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (River Hill), the presumed favorite, strained his calf and was placed on injured reserve Saturday.
Hester, 33, is regarded as one of the best return specialists in league history. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and he holds the NFL record for return touchdowns with 20 and punt-return scores with 14.
However, he is coming off a toe injury that limited him to five games with the Atlanta Falcons last year, and required offseason surgery. He took a physical with the Ravens on Friday and the team appears to be comfortable enough with his health to sign him.
According to NFL Network, Hester's deal could be worth as much as $4 million with incentives.