Lardarius Webb hosts a charity softball game at Ripken Stadium between the Ravens offense and defense. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Lardarius Webb was a former Raven for a little less than a month after the team released the veteran defensive back March 10. As he mulled his playing options for the 2017 season, it became harder and harder for him to envision playing anywhere else.
He thought about his teammates and his leadership role in the locker room. He also considered the many people he has met and influenced in the community during his first eight seasons as a Raven.
"I felt like I wasn't done here in Baltimore on the football field and also in the community," Webb said before his charity softball game Sunday at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen that pitted the Ravens offense against the defense. "I feel like there was a lot of guys in the locker room and in the defensive back room that needed me here to help them grow."
Sunday's game, won 9-1 by the offense, brought out more than 40 current or former Ravens and a near-capacity crowd on a sultry afternoon. It featured a home run-robbing catch by inside linebacker Lamar Louis, who crashed through the fence; daring base running and dancing by former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr.; and a successful hidden-ball trick pulled off by kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox.
It was Webb's eighth annual game and one of several events the defensive back puts on each year in connection with the Lardarius Webb Foundation, which raises and distributes money and aid to underprivileged children and their families.
"I'm glad I was able to come back so I can still be a part of this. This is something I did not want to take from Baltimore," Webb said. "I give back. I love Baltimore. I've put it under my wings. I love the kids here and I want to make a difference here. The community gives back to me and I give back to the community. That's how it works."
Webb said he's always tried to get involved in the community, and that desire was only strengthened watching the impact that former teammates Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, his mentor, had on the Baltimore community.
A third-round draft pick in 2009, Webb has been with the Ravens longer than all but four players on the current roster: quarterback Joe Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and punter Sam Koch. That, of course, ignores the month the 31-year-old spent this offseason off the roster and on the free-agent market.
The Ravens released him just a day after signing Tony Jefferson, one of the best free-agent safeties available, to play alongside Eric Weddle. Webb started all 16 games last year, finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles and seemingly got better each week in his first season as a safety. However, the Ravens needed the salary cap space, and cutting Webb provided $5.5 million of it.
Webb garnered tepid interest on the free-agent market before it became clear that re-signing with the Ravens — he rejoined the organization April 8 at approximately a $3 million pay cut, but he could make much of that back in incentives — and occupying the No. 3 safety role was his best option.
"He's a true Raven," said Ravens linebacker and special teams ace Albert McClellan, Webb's teammate since 2011. "He knows the history. He knows everything about the organization, and he knows what type of people we want to keep around here in order for us to be successful. For him to actually take that step in his career, to maybe not take a step back but to continue to push people to better themselves, that just shows his character. He loves to compete."
Jefferson, who showed up Sunday to support Webb, said his new teammate has made him comfortable from the outset.
"Lardarius is a great dude, man," Jefferson said. "He understands everything. He's been in the league a long time. We're a team. He wants to win, and so does everyone else."
During his time with the Ravens, Webb has persevered through ACL tears in each of his knees and some nagging back problems. He successfully made the transition from cornerback to safety last season.
His latest challenge is embracing a reserve role behind Weddle and Jefferson. Webb had been a full-time starter with the Ravens since 2011.
"It feels like a different situation. I've always been a starter, but bringing Tony Jefferson in is going to make our ball team a much better squad," Webb said Sunday. "The locker room loves him. He brings energy to our defense. We want to be the best defense in the league, so bring in all the guys you can to make us be the best defense in the league."
Webb still figures to receive plenty of defensive snaps. Tavon Young's likely season-ending knee injury could prompt the Ravens to use Webb in the slot as the No.3 cornerback. There will be other instances in which defensive coordinator Dean Pees could move Jefferson closer to the line of scrimmage and use Webb and Weddle deep. Webb also is a candidate to return punts, a role he's had success with in the past.
"I'll find my spot," he said. "I'll find my way."
On Sunday, that spot was on the baseball diamond at Ripken Stadium, reprising his role as host. It's a responsibility he didn't want to give up.
NOTE: Young, who tore his left ACL on June 1 while returning an interception during an organized team activity, attended Webb's game despite readying for knee surgery over the next week. Young said he hasn't been given a timetable for his return, but he plans to come back "bigger, faster, stronger," and he's already gotten over the disappointment of the injury. "I got over it by the first day it happened," he said. "I just got to look forward. God does things. He gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers. I look at it as a blessing."