On Friday, the Ravens reportedly came to terms with former Atlanta Falcons cornerback and special teams ace Justin Bethel. Baltimore officially signed him on Tuesday to a two-year deal with the financial amount undisclosed.
Bethel, 28, is known for his strength as a special teams gunner — making three Pro Bowl appearances from 2013-2015. During those three seasons, Bethel recovered five total fumbles and 81 total tackles. He hopes to bring that same leadership and style of play to Baltimore’s special teams.
“I think that I’ll be able to really help — especially on the coverage unit,” Bethel said of his future contributions to special teams. “We have a great punter and I’m excited to play with him. I know that we’ll be able to really impact in that area, especially field position and just bring the leadership that I have to the team and helping this team get better.”
The Ravens have already dabbled in the defensive back market this offseason when they signed Earl Thomas to a four-year/$55 million deal. With veterans Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young and Tony Jefferson in the defensive backfield, Baltimore has a litany of experience.
Jefferson had a big influence on Bethel coming to Baltimore. The safety has been on social media recruiting players to come play for the Ravens and it makes even more sense that he’d ask his former teammate to link up again. The two played with the Arizona Cardinals together from 2013-2017.
“It’s kind of funny how it happened,” said Bethel of how he signed with Baltimore. “I’m pretty sure everyone knows how aggressive Tony Jefferson likes to help recruit. He actually called me — I think it was like Friday morning — it was like ‘Ay, our guys are trying to get in touch with you. Are you ignoring our calls? We haven’t heard back.’ I was like ‘Man, I haven’t heard anything.’
“And apparently, they didn’t have the right number. They were calling my old phone number — he [Jefferson] gave it to him. Then from then on, we started talking and it just felt like the right fit and it pretty much went down in a day and it happened really fast.”
Bethel played much more defense in his years with Arizona and had four interceptions (19 pass deflections). He also had three interceptions returned for a touchdown. That past ability on defense could prove helpful to the Ravens. They’ve had special teams cornerbacks in the past show up on defense in a big way — i.e. Corey Graham.
With that being said, playing defense didn’t factor into his decision to come to terms with the Ravens.
“Truthfully, I don’t always think about that kind of stuff,” said Bethel of potentially playing defense. “For me, coming here I was just thinking ‘What is it [that] I can do to help this team be better? What is it in me that is needed?’ For me, I know that special teams is somewhere where I can always help and give an immediate impact to.
“Doing my part there and being ready for whatever comes next when it comes to defense — just being ready for that. If the opportunity comes, just taking full advantage of it.”
Bethel will be part of a strong special teams unit with kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch, return men Cyrus Jones and Chris Moore, along with Anthony Levine Sr. as the upback. The special teams did however lose longtime coordinator Jerry Rosburg — who was replaced by former Washington defensive back Chris Horton.
With Rosburg’s retirement, Baltimore will lean heavily on their veterans to lead the specialists with Bethel being one of those veterans.
“I think they did a good job of filling in with Chris Horton and I’m excited to work with him and he’s been in the program, he knows where this team has been and how they ran things and I’m interested to see his spin on it and where he wants to lead it,” said Bethel. “For me, I just want to go out there and help him any way I can. And just make whatever he envisions for our special teams, just to bring it to pass.”