Toward the end of Nick Boyle’s rookie season, the Ravens tight end was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. “Pretty dumb,” coach John Harbaugh said of the mistake.
Two months later, another violation, another 10 games out, another Harbaugh barb: “If he continues to double down on dumb, then he’s going to be out.”
On Thursday morning, Boyle arrived at the team facility a rich man. The night before, the Ravens had finished what they considered smart business: a three-year contract extension worth a reported $18 million. He had overcome the “dumb.” More than that, he’d owned up to it.
“I’d call myself the same thing if I was back there,” said Boyle, joined at a news conference by his wife, Kristina, and Harbaugh. “I have no hard feelings on that. It's the truth. The truth's the truth. You can't hide behind the truth. And that's something that, like I said, built me today. It made me a stronger person, made me look back at what really meant so much to me and just everything in general. I'm a believer that everything happens for a reason, and just excited to be here today for all of this.”
Only 14 tight ends in the NFL have contracts worth more annually than Boyle’s. It is fine with him that he remains somewhat anonymous outside Baltimore. He will not be anyone’s top choice for a fantasy football tight end. “I see it all the time,” he said. “They're like, 'Nick Boyle who?’ ”
But there is no better blocker, Harbaugh said, than the 26-year-old with a soft spot for his dogs and remote-control car. According to Pro Football Focus, Boyle led all NFL tight ends in run-blocking snaps in the regular season's final seven weeks — the seven weeks in which quarterback Lamar Jackson started after taking over for Joe Flacco.
On a team with one of the NFL’s top rookie receivers (Mark Andrews), a first-round draft pick (Hayden Hurst) and a former second-round pick (Maxx Williams), Boyle led all Ravens tight ends in snaps. The former fifth-round pick set career highs as a receiver, finishing with 213 yards and 9.3 yards per catch in 16 games (13 starts).
“I think Nick is a huge piece of our offense going forward from the standpoint of how he plays, the tone he sets, the type of player he is,” Harbaugh said Thursday. “I think he's an all-around tight end. … He sets the edge. He sets the tempo. He's a physical presence out there, but he's definitely an underrated talent in the passing game. You've seen that when he gets an opportunity to catch passes and run routes, he makes those plays.”
Harbaugh was “antsy” about the prospect of losing Boyle; he’d talked with the former Delaware standout for over a year about coming back. Harbaugh knew Boyle would be highly coveted on the open market. No, he hasn’t scored yet in his NFL career. He’s done just about everything else, though, and done it well. “Everybody wanted and needed a tight end,” Harbaugh said.
But the Ravens, Boyle said, are “like my first love.” He’d grown close with his fellow tight ends, a group that, even with Williams headed for free agency, Harbaugh called the best in the league. He’d blossomed under Greg Roman, the former tight ends coach and now the team’s offensive coordinator, who deployed Boyle as a fullback-tight end hybrid. He’d once covered his face in local grocery stores out of embarrassment during those early years, but leave Baltimore?
Out of the question.
“I wanted to come back here right away,” Boyle said. “Free agency's like, 'Ah, man.' You get torn like a rubber band. You get pulled to each side to where, like, you're not breaking it, but you're really stretched out.”
Even with the Ravens offense under renovation this offseason, Boyle’s responsibilities will likely remain unchanged. He’s versatile enough to play in any offense, Harbaugh believes. But in the Ravens’ two- and three-tight end formations, with Boyle’s 280-pound frame clearing the way for Jackson and his elite speed, the coach said defenses face a “big challenge” in personnel matchups.
Boyle’s payday won’t change much for him. He joked that he told his wife they’ll still shop at Nordstrom Rack. Why not do everything, even shop, the smart way? He knows what he’d risk by considering the alternative.
“There's things I could've done better and things I come from that made me the guy who I am today,” he said. “And it's really exciting, it's really humbling and it's something I think about a little bit. But I'm not a guy to live in the past or in the future. I just kind of live day by day.”
Note: Harbaugh said the release Wednesday of veteran safety Eric Weddle was something “we all knew was a possibility but didn’t want to think about.” He called Weddle “the consummate football player, the consummate leader,” and predicted he’d one day join Ed Reed in Canton, Ohio. “I think he should be in the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame. I think we'll have two Ravens safeties in the Hall of Fame, I think, at some point in time. I really believe that.”