The Ravens signed former Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Austin Howard to a three-year, $16 million deal with a team option after each year of the contract. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has done this before. In 2008, he signed veteran offensive tackle Willie Anderson just days before the regular season opener. Three years later, Newsome inked talented but mercurial tackle Bryant McKinnie in late August.
He made a deal to solidify the team's highly-scrutinized offensive line a little bit earlier this time, today signing mammoth right tackle Austin Howard, who was released by the Oakland Raiders last week, to a three-year contract.
Howard signed a three-year, $16 million pact with a team option following each year of the deal, according to the NFL Network. The size of the contract makes it all but certain that Howard, if he's healthy, will be the starting right tackle over James Hurst.
It also calls into question whether the cash-strapped Ravens will have the resources to make any more meaningful additions at a time where they are thin at a couple of other spots and they're still being linked to free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Howard, who also reportedly took a free agent visit to the Houston Texans, arrived in Baltimore Thursday night and started meeting with team officials. He took a physical Friday before the deal became official.
The Ravens waived-injured tight end Crockett Gillmore to make room for Howard. Gillmore sustained a season-ending knee injury during the first week of training camp.
It will be Howard's second stint in Baltimore. The 30-year-old spent about 2 ½ months on the Ravens' practice squad during the 2011 season before he was signed by the New York Jets, for whom he was a two-year starter at right tackle.
Howard (6-foot-7, 330 pounds) went on to start three seasons for the Oakland Raiders after signing a five-year, $30 million deal with them before the 2014 campaign. The Raiders released him July 28 in a cost-cutting move. Howard also struggled at times last year as part of an otherwise dominant Oakland offensive line.
Over parts of seven NFL seasons, he's started 72 games and appeared in 76 contests, mostly playing right tackle. He did start at right guard for the Raiders in 2014.
If he is healthy – he had surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff in January – Howard fills one of the Ravens' biggest needs. The Ravens didn't immediately fill the vacancy when three-year starting right tackle Rick Wagner signed with the Detroit Lions in free agency.
James Hurst, who has struggled in spot duty, has been the starting right tackle during training camp. He's now likely to become the top backup to both Ronnie Stanley at left tackle and Howard on the right side.
"We have the best personnel department. [General manager Ozzie Newsome] and the fellows do a great job," Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said following Friday's practice. "Anybody that they bring in I'm sure will help us in some way. It might be a big way; it might be a special situation. They've done a terrific job."
Mornhinweg was the Jets' offensive coordinator in 2014 when Howard started 16 games for the team in 2014.
The Ravens also needed more depth and experience on the offensive line in general following the abrupt retirement of John Urschel last week and rookie guard Nico Siragusa's season-ending knee injury earlier this week.
Before the Howard signing, eight of the 15 offensive linemen on the Ravens roster had never played in an NFL regular-season game before. Starting right guard Marshal Yanda and Hurst were the only two offensive linemen on the team who had made more than 12 career starts.
While the addition of Howard solidifies the right side, the Ravens still have some uncertainty at center. Ryan Jensen is the likely starter over Matt Skura, but he's never started an NFL game at center.
Former New York Jets center Nick Mangold, who took a free agent visit to the Ravens in early April, remains available. However, his asking price had been too high for the Ravens and some are unsure about whether he's fully committed to playing in 2017.