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Evaluating the pros and cons of signing OG Kevin Zeitler to a contract extension

There are solid reasons for and against giving the stalwart veteran a new deal to keep him around longer.

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
The veteran interior offensive lineman is entering the final year of his contract and would like to stay in Baltimore.
Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens have numerous players that will be playing on the final year of their current contracts during the 2023 season. Veteran offensive guard Kevin Zeitler is slated to be one of the team’s top impending free agents next offseason.

He is heading into his 12th season in the league and the last of the three-year, $22.5 million deal he signed in 2021, after the New York Giants released him as a cap casualty. Zeitler told reporters back in mid-June that he has “no intention” to stop playing anytime soon.

“When you’re in a place this good, you’d love to finish out your career here,” he said in a press conference on June 15, 2023. “I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Not coming to OTAs for the first time kind of made it really clear [that] I still need this game, I love this game and I want to play this game . . . I owe it to them [teammates] to work hard every day and do whatever we can to try to get this team a Super Bowl.”

According to ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, Zeitler has made his intention to stay in Baltimore on a new contract known to the organization. However, he hasn’t gone the route of threatened to hold out (or hold in) of team activities, as was the case with running back J.K. Dobbins during mandatory minicamp.

With training camps around the league beginning in few weeks and the 2023 season right around the corner, let’s examine the pros and cons of the Ravens potentially signing Zeitler to a contract extension.

The Pros

High level play has yet to drop off

The Ravens had a huge Hall of Famer-sized void at the starting right guard spot on their offensive line when eight-time Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda retired following the 2019 season. They deployed a lackluster two-man rotation of rookie third rounder Tyre Phillips and former first rounder D.J. Fluker in 2020.

Zeitler not only brought stability to the position, having appeared and started in 33 of a possible 35 games, but also has performed at a high level during that span. He produced a overall Pro Football Focus grade of 74 or higher in each of the last two years and was the fifth-highest graded offensive player on the team in 2022.

Veteran experience and leadership

Zeitler is not the most accomplished member of the Ravens starting unit of blockers, as he is still searching for his first career Pro Bowl nod. However, at 33-year-old with 166 career starts, he is the most experienced. The next closest is fellow veteran Morgan Moses, who starts next to him at right tackle and started 130 career games.

While the Ravens have established veterans at both starting tackle spots in Moses and Ronnie Stanley on the left side, they are young and far less experienced at their other two interior positions — depending on who wins the starting left guard spot.

As a rookie, 2022 first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum established himself as one of the better centers in the league but still only has one year of experience. If fourth-year pro John Simpson (21 career starts in three seasons) doesn’t win the starting left guard battle, the Ravens will have either a new starter with less than a full season of experience at that spot. The other candidates include 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland, 2022 fourth-round career tackle Daniel Faalele, and 2023 sixth-round rookie Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu.

Zeitler’s wisdom will be instrumental in helping develop whoever winds winning the competition and his role as a leader is something he values dearly and takes very seriously.

“I try to stick with the O-line – all these young guys – because there’s so many different ways to play O-line nowadays,” he said in the aforementioned press conference. “[There are] a lot of different ways to describe things; I’ve done it a bunch of different ways. Anytime a young guy comes up [to me], it’s great to help him out and try to make him figure out what’s right for them.”

Cost should be manageable

The Ravens already restructured Zeitler’s current deal to create cap space by taking on four void years. Signing him to an extension would elevate some of the $4.2 million cap hit they’re currently slated to carry next year if he isn’t retained. Given his age and the position he plays, it shouldn’t be as costly as giving new deals to some of the team’s younger players at more premium positions.

Zeitler is currently only the 19th highest paid guard in the league and his teammate and utility lineman, Patrick Mekari, isn’t that far behind at 23rd, with an average annual salary of $5.15 million.

After making quarterback Lamar Jackson the highest-paid player in the league, it’s unclear what financial commitment the Ravens would be willing to make to retain Zeitler’s services. If he really wants to finish out his career in Baltimore and the team will make a competitive offer, the price shouldn’t be much of a deterrent considering all he brings to the table.

The Cons

Inexpensive youth in waiting

Earlier in the offseason, prior to having his deal restructured, Zeitler’s name regularly came up as a potential salary cap casualty. Even though that matter has been resolved, his future with the team still remains questionable given all of the young talent on rookie contracts that they’ve added in the past three years.

The Ravens have drafted four mid-to-late round offensive linemen over that span and all of them either already have experience playing guard or are currently being cross trained at the position.

In addition to the aforementioned trio in contention for the starting left guard spot this year, they also have seventh-round rookie Andrew Vorhees. Vorhees will miss his whole rookie season after suffering a torn ACL injury at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine but is expected to make a full recovery.

After trading back into the draft with the Cleveland Browns to select him, General Manager Eric DeCosta said that the Ravens have “every expectation that he will be playing winning football for us in 2024.”

Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells described the term “progress stoppers” as a player that is in the later stages of their career and aren’t what they once were or are just simply getting up there in age/price. They often delay the development and ascension of younger players waiting in the wings, who are cheaper and need reps to prove themselves.

As great as holding onto Zeitler beyond this season would be for continuity and morale, it might prevent the Ravens’ opportunities to get more looks at their young offensive linemen playing on rookie contracts.

Age and attrition could begin to play a factor

Although Zeitler’s play has been consistently solid-to-above-average during his time with the Ravens and third stint in the AFC North, players’ bodies inevitably begin to break down as they age. It is especially true for lineman in the trenches who are engaging in violent collisions on almost every play. They’re either initiating contact while run blocking or absorbing it in pass protection.

A player getting banged up in their early-to-mid 30s might take longer to recover than a one who is younger, like most of the Ravens other offensive linemen. Even players that spend resources on private treatment for maintenance and recovery, as now ex-Raven Calais Campbell did, still ultimately have their performance begin to tail off at some point.

While Zeitler is certainly the best option that the Ravens have at right guard right now, that might not be the case next offseason or this time next year if their youngsters continue to develop.

Possible resolutions

Agree to short-term extension

In the final years of his career, Yanda was seemingly getting extended on one short-term deal after the other as he mulled retirement and helped the team spread out his salary cap hits. The Ravens could do something like that with Zeitler for a modest, yet fair average annual salary. It would maintain continuity on one of the better offensive lines in the league for the foreseeable future.

Let him play out final year and move one next offseason

The Ravens could also just wait and see how Zeitler performs this year and make their decision next spring on whether to let him walk or not. If he continues to play well and the team still opts not to extend him, they’ll certainly be in line to receive a decent 2025 compensatory pick. That would happen if Zeitler signed elsewhere and they didn’t make a free agent signing that canceled his departure out.