Last offseason, the very first move the Ravens made in free agency was acquiring offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. They signed the 10-year veteran to a three-year, $22 million contract with the hopes that he’d be a plug-and-play starter and stabilize the right guard position.
They got a good bang for their buck, as Zeitler proved to be a worthwhile investment after a strong 2021 campaign. Now, with the regular season in rearview, the Ravens’ acquisition of Zeitler is earning well-deserved high marks.
Yesterday, Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) Sam Monson released a list of the best and worst free agent signings from this past season. Of the seven signings listed in the “best” category, Zeitler was one of them.
“Zeitler had been one of the better guards in the league for the Bengals and Cleveland Browns before a stint in New York caused him hit free agency after the worst season of his career” Monson said. “The Ravens relied on the experience of facing him for years within the AFC North and signed him to a three-year contract, where he bounced back immediately to something akin to his career baseline.”
Zeitler’s subpar performance in 2020 with the Giants was a reason some were critical of the Ravens’ decision to sign him. Based on how he performed in 2021, Zeitler’s lone season in New York can be considered an outlier.
“Zeitler finished the season with a 76.4 PFF grade — more than 10 grading points higher than his last year in New York” Monson noted. “He allowed one sack and 17 pressures all season and was a significant upgrade on a line that was trending in the wrong direction.”
Sports Info Solutions had Kevin Zeitler as the third most valuable offensive lineman in the NFL in 2021. Zeitler's 41.79 Points Earned trailed only Tristain Wirfs and Joe Thuney.— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) January 20, 2022
Zeitler was also 5th in Points Above Average (11.89).
The Ravens’ offensive line was in-flux for much of the 2021 season, but Zeitler was one of the few mainstays and reliable pieces.
Ronnie Stanley missed almost the entire season, forcing Alejandro Villanueva to presume starting left tackle duties. In turn, Patrick Mekari took over at the opposite tackle spot. Mekari missed several games due to injury, however, as did guys like Tyre Phillips and Ben Cleveland.
Zeitler, in tandem with starting center Bradley Bozeman, really solidified the interior of the Ravens’ offensive line. The strong play of these two helped compensate for the group’s weaknesses at the other three starting spots. Had the Ravens not signed Zeitler last offseason and instead went the in-house direction or drafted a rookie to start, the offensive line likely would have been in much worse shape.
Upgrading up front figures to be a major priority for the team’s front office this offseason. Fortunately, because of Zeitler’s presence, the right guard spot will not factor into this focus. Zeitler will only be 32-years-old at the start of the 2022 season and looks to have plenty of high-level football left in the tank.
Other players mentioned as 2021’s best free agent signings include Arden Key (49ers), Cordarelle Patterson (Falcons), Matt Feiler (Chargers), Casey Heyward (Raiders), Trey Hendrickson and Chidobe Awuzie (Bengals).
No other Ravens were featured on the list, which you can read the full rendition of here.