Robert Griffin III wanted to restart his NFL career in Baltimore.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted him on the team as insurance behind starting quarterback Joe Flacco and unproven rookie Lamar Jackson.
On Saturday, the Ravens found space for a third quarterback on their season-opening 53-man roster for the first time since 2009.
Their decision to keep Griffin headlined a day on which the team cut 18 players, including 2015 first-round draft pick Breshad Perriman, longtime special teams star Albert McClellan and former third-round picks Carl Davis and Bronson Kaufusi.
They also moved promising rookie kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik to the reserve list for a nonfootball injury after he suffered head wounds in an overnight incident in Baltimore. Vedvik was listed in stable condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center on Saturday afternoon.
Players who made the roster included rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley, rookie defensive end Zach Sieler, undrafted rookie wide receiver-returner Janarion Grant and undrafted rookie cornerback Darious Williams, who likely slid into a spot that would have been taken by veteran Stanley Jean-Baptiste had he not broken his arm in Thursday’s preseason finale. They joined a group of 12 rookies who will start the season with the Ravens as the team tries to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
“Trust God #PlayLikeARaven,” Griffin wrote in a tweet shortly after the roster was announced at 4 p.m.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Rookie of the Year sat out the entire 2017 season and has not been a full-time starter since 2013. He signed with the Ravens in April and quickly impressed coaches with his skill on the field and his maturity in the locker room. Instead of acting threatened by Jackson, he mentored the young first-round pick, who reminded him of himself.
“There’s no doubt that you want Robert Griffin on your team,” Harbaugh said after Thursday’s preseason finale. “He makes our quarterback room better and stronger. He’s a very good quarterback. He looks like a starter to me. He has been a starter. Certainly a backup in this league, without question. I mean, that’s not even close. I would like to have him on the team. We’ll just have to see how the math works.”
On Thursday night, Griffin said he hoped to remain a Raven, even if that meant serving as a third-string quarterback.
“I want to be here,” he said. “That’s what my gut says.”
At the same time, he knew he might have to move on.
“When you put in the hard work, and you’ve done everything you possibly can to put your best foot forward and try to show the team that you deserve to be here, there’s no stress,” Griffin said. “I’m not going to stress about anything. I’m going to go to practice tomorrow and see what happens after that. I’m not going to be worried about it. It’s in God’s hands.”
Other decisions Saturday were less surprising but carried emotional weight for the franchise. The Ravens cut Perriman after three frustrating seasons and a last-ditch push for a roster spot this summer.
Perriman said he wasn’t thinking about the possible end of his time in Baltimore when he removed his No. 11 Ravens jersey for the final time Thursday night. But he understood he had transformed from a blue-chip prospect to a long shot.
He was proud that he’d remained healthy for a full training camp and preseason and felt he had made a compelling case to stick with the team.
The Ravens decided they’d rather give that chance to Lasley, the fifth-round pick out of UCLA who struggled with drops during training camp. Perriman, who caught just 43 passes for 576 yards in three seasons, is the only first-round pick in team history to be cut before the end of his rookie contract.
The Ravens also cut McClellan, one of the most widely respected players in the organization. The eighth-year veteran is 32 and missed all of 2017 after he tore an ACL. The team opted to keep undrafted rookie free agent Chris Board instead, hoping to develop him on the same track McClellan once followed.
The Ravens settled their returner battle by keeping Grant and cutting wide receiver Tim White. White missed all of 2017 because of a thumb injury, but his sprinter’s speed made him a roster candidate entering training camp. Grant beat him out with more consistent play in the preseason. The team also cut undrafted rookie receiver Andre Levrone.
At running back, the Ravens cut preseason workhorses De’Lance Turner and Gus Edwards along with Mark Thompson and German fullback Christopher Ezeala. They also waived fourth quarterback Josh Woodrum.
At tight end, they cut Vince Mayle and Darren Waller, who returned to the team midway through training camp after missing all of last season because of a drug suspension. Waller remains an intriguing talent and could end up on the team’s practice squad if he clears waivers.
On the offensive line, the Ravens cut guards Nico Siragusa, Cameron Lee and Maurquice Shakir, and guard/tackle Randin Crecelius. Siragusa was a fourth-round pick last year, but has struggled to regain his mobility after knee surgery that wiped out his rookie season. Crecelius’ agent, Brett Tessler, wrote on Twitter that his client is expected to end up on the Ravens’ practice squad if he clears waivers.
The moves left second-year guard/tackle Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie center Bradley Bozeman as reserves behind the team’s six potential starting linemen, a group that includes rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr.
On the defensive line, the Ravens will begin the season without starter Willie Henry, who underwent hernia surgery. They nonetheless cut the versatile Davis, 2016 third-round pick Kaufusi and defensive end/linebacker Myles Humphrey. Sieler and second-year defensive end Chris Wormley made the team and will back up Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Brent Urban.