On Monday, the Baltimore Ravens re-signed offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year contract extension worth $17.5 million including $8 million guaranteed. The deal gives him starter-level money and solidifies his place with the team. Raise your hand if you expected any of that to happen a year ago at this point.
Baltimore signed Hurst as an undrafted free agent in 2014 out of North Carolina. Prior to last season, Hurst started 18 games in his career, including the two playoff games in 2014, with the majority of those starts coming at left tackle. Before Ronnie Stanley came into the fold, Baltimore was having trouble at the blind side spot. Eugene Monroe was supposed to be the answer, but injuries derailed his tenure. Kelechi Osemele, while primarily a guard, spent time at the position and performed well. However, he signed with the Oakland Raiders two years ago.
Hurst also started at left tackle, and the results weren’t pretty. He was not only one of the worst tackles in the NFL, but one of the worst offensive lineman in the league. Hurst struggled mightily when he did start for Monroe during his first two seasons, and he became infamous for being pushed into quarterback Joe Flacco’s knee against the Rams during the 2015 season. The play tore Flacco’s ACL and MCL, and later in the year, Hurst was benched for Osemele.
In 2016, Hurst entered the season on the bubble after the team drafted Stanley and Alex Lewis, but did start three games that year. Two at left tackle for the injured Stanley and the last being in Week 17 at right tackle, subbing for the injured Rick Wagner. Entering last year, Hurst was in competition for the vacated right tackle spot previously owned by Wagner, who departed in free agency to the Detroit Lions.
2017 would see a change for the often maligned player. At left guard, injuries hit hard with 2017 draft pick Nico Siragusa’s season ending prematurely, tearing his ACL, PCL, and MCL in training camp. Then Lewis, the teams starting left guard in 2016, had to get shoulder surgery. Ending his sophomore season. It also didn’t help the depth on the offensive line when John Urschel retired on the first day of camp.
All of a sudden, Hurst went from fighting for a job at right tackle, to being shifted to left guard with newly-signed Austin Howard taking over at right tackle. Hurst proved to be more than capable at the position despite having a new center next to him in Ryan Jensen, and the loss of right guard Marshal Yanda for the season in Week 2. Hurst put up a solid 2017 campaign, and helped the Ravens offensive line, which was in shambles at the beginning of the year, improve tremendously. The former Tar Heel would only give up three sacks in all 16 games he played last season, with one start coming at left tackle against the Minnesota Vikings due to Stanley being injured for a game.
Even with his struggles at left tackle, it looks like Hurst has found a permanent home as a left guard, and in Greg Roman’s scheme. With the money Baltimore paid him, it looks like Hurst is here to stay for the foreseeable future. After signing Hurst, Baltimore had a decision to make with Howard. They could’ve kept him on the roster and had Lewis as a backup or parted ways with him. Which would once again open a vacant spot at right tackle.
On Tuesday, Baltimore made their decision to reportedly not pick up Howard’s option. Which leaves the right tackle spot open for competition once again. Lewis, while still backing up Hurst, is now in the running to start next to Yanda in 2018, barring a free agent signing or an early draft pick to add further competition. It’s an interesting scenario the Ravens now find themselves in, and it’s something not many thought would be the case after Lewis started and did well at left guard during his rookie year. Then again, nobody saw Hurst’s performance coming, maybe except the Ravens themselves.
Regardless, what Hurst did in 2017 was nothing short of remarkable. He stepped in when a lot of pieces were being scrambled on the offensive line and did a solid job. He went from a player who was on the bubble two years in a row, to now contributing for Baltimore’s offensive line. It really has been a great turnaround for James Hurst.