Over the last two seasons, Kyle Juszczyk has revolutionized a fullback position that had been previously dying off in the modern NFL. As opposed to fullbacks of old that served as battering rams blocking for running backs, Juszczyk was utilized as an offensive weapon for the Ravens. Never before has a fullback had such an impact in the passing game than Juszczyk has had.
Juszczyk’s stellar 2016 season was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection, and the Harvard product finished the year as the highest graded fullback on Pro Football Focus. Juszczyk received a 87.9 overall grade for the season, nearly three points better than the second place finisher, James Develin of the New England Patriots.
Brandon Williams and Ricky Wagner have received much of the attention as the top priorities for the Ravens to re-sign. However, Juszczyk is also set to hit the open market this summer. With the return of Williams and Wagner becoming more and more unlikely, should general manager Ozzie Newsome look to retain his fullback?
Even if the Ravens let Williams and Wagner walk, Newsome will still have his work cut out for him to make offseason additions while keeping the Ravens under the salary cap. Therefore, keeping Juszczyk in Baltimore won’t be easy either.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley reported that the projected value of the franchise tag for Williams and Wagner will be over $12 million. The Ravens can ill-afford to dish out that kind of a salary. Hensley however, reports that that same figure will apply to Juszczyk as well. If the Ravens are going to spend that much money on the franchise tag, it isn’t going to be for Juszczyk.
The value for Juszczyk is somewhat of a unknown. The highest yearly salary for a full back for the 2016 season is Ryan Hewitt of the Bengals whose 2016 salary was $2.5 million. After the season that he just completed, Juszczyk is widely regarded as the best fullback in the NFL, and thus could receive a yearly salary similar to Hewitt.
However, we don’t really know how NFL teams are going to value fullbacks this summer until free agency begins. For the sake of this article, let’s assume that value of fullbacks doesn’t see a large change from recent offseasons.
In terms of contract length, no other fullback has a contract over four years. Considering Juszczyk is only 24 years old and likely has his best seasons ahead of him, a potential suitor very well could try to sign him for at least four years.
If Juszczyk received an identical yearly salary to Hewitt on a four year contract, that totals to a $10 million contract. This would give Juszczyk the largest contract of any active fullback in the NFL.
However, the fullback market is stockpiled this offseason. Along with Juszczyk, Develin, Zach Line and Patrick DiMarco among others are also soon to hit the open market. With this kind of competition, Juszczyk could see his value increase, a scenario that could weaken the chances of Juszczyk returning to Baltimore next season.
It’s easy to say that each fullback resigns with their current team and all issues are avoided for the Ravens. However, that’s where the San Francisco 49ers enter the equation.
The 49ers recently hired Kyle Shanahan to take over as the team’s head coach. In his first offseason as a head coach, Shanahan will have nearly $82 million in cap room to work with.
Shanahan utilized DiMarco in Atlanta as a running and receiving threat. With the team in place to make another run to the Super Bowl, DiMarco may want to stay in Atlanta where his role is unlikely to change with Shanahan gone.
What other fullback that is set to hit the market is a receiving and running threat that fits Shanahan’s scheme well? Kyle Juszczyk. With significantly more money to offer and a scheme where he very well could see more touches than in Baltimore, Juszczyk could be intrigued by the 49ers.
If the 49ers do pursue Juszczyk, a bidding war with Baltimore is possible, and it is nearly a guarantee that Baltimore will lose that battle.
In summary, if the Ravens do plan to retain their star fullback, a deal needs to be worked out, fast before other teams can offer. Baltimore can’t afford to get into a bidding with any team that has more cap room than themselves. It’s undeniable that Juszczyk has a role carved out for him in Baltimore, but will Juszczyk be willing to pass up a larger salary from a team like the 49ers to stay in Baltimore?