Ravens beat writer Jeff Zrebiec on the release of veteran Lardarius Webb and resigning of offensive lineman James Hurst. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
An undrafted free agent in 2014, James Hurst wound up making the Ravens out of training camp, starting five regular-season games as a rookie and both playoff games. Over parts of four seasons, he started 32 games for the team.
Hurst, 26, parlayed his best NFL season into a four-year, $17.5 million deal with the Ravens that includes $8 million in guaranteed money, a league source confirmed.
The Ravens announced the Hurst signing just after the legal tampering window opened at noon today.
"This is good news for our football team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. "James is a reliable, tough and versatile player who has played a lot of football for us. He has started at both tackle and guard, and all he has been is productive and someone who has made us better."
The size of Hurst’s contract makes it likely that the Ravens see him as a starter in 2018. With starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis expected back after season-ending injuries last year, right tackle Austin Howard’s future with the team could now be in jeopardy. The Ravens would save $3 million by releasing Howard.
The Ravens will have the option of starting Hurst at left guard and moving Lewis out to right tackle or using Hurst at right tackle.
The Ravens also have Matt Skura, who started 12 games at right guard last season after Yanda went down, and 2017 fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa, who missed his entire rookie season after tearing up his knee in training camp A 2017 fifth-round pick, Jermaine Eluemunor also is probably better suited at guard than tackle.
Starting center Ryan Jensen is a pending free agent.
Hurst started all 16 games in 2017, 15 of them at left guard after Lewis’ season-ending shoulder surgery and one of them at left tackle when Ronnie Stanley was out with a concussion. He seemed to find a home at guard after he was used primarily as a swing tackle over his first three NFL seasons.
The North Carolina graduate was part of an offensive line that allowed just 27 sacks, the seventh fewest in the league, and paved the way for the league’s 11th-ranked running attack.
A lightning rod for criticism from fans, Hurst was maligned for being pushed back into quarterback Joe Flacco during a November 2015 game against the St. Louis Rams. Flacco tore the ACL and MCL on the play, ending his streak of 122 starts to begin a season.
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However, Hurst is a well-respected teammate who works hard and never makes excuses despite being put in some tough spots.
Last summer, he was the projected starting right tackle at the beginning of training camp, but then the Ravens signed Howard. Hurst moved to right guard with Yanda still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He then was shifted to left guard after Lewis got hurt. In one week span, Hurst worked with the three different starting positions on the offensive line.
Hurst held his own in starting two games at left tackle in the playoffs following the 2014 regular season as both Eugene Monroe and Rick Wagner were sidelined. Hurst then started eight games at left tackle in 2015 and three more at 2016.
While he had a few difficult moments in his transition to a new position this past year, Hurst mostly held up and filled a major void after the Ravens lost their top starting guards to season-ending injuries.