Daniel Faalele

Ravens G Ben Cleveland Seeing Time At Tackle

We’ve covered the situation surrounding the Ravens’ offensive line position battles in depth already, but with three starting positions alongside center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley completely open for competition, the updates are sure to continue rolling in. Our most recent update highlights a disappointing development for a perceived favorite to take a starting job.

According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, three of the players competing for starting roles this offseason saw time at both guard and tackle during the team’s organized team activities. Daniel Faalele, newcomer Josh Jones, and Ben Cleveland are the three big men who have shuffled around on the line this spring.

Faalele is a massive human (listed at 6-foot-8, 380 pounds) who has one start in 32 game appearances over his first two years in the league. He has struggled to be effective as a backup tackle, sometimes filling in for the oft-injured Stanley. Moving Faalele inside could make an intimidating run defense even more formidable. Jones was brought in especially because of his versatility on the line, so his shuffling around is no surprise. If Jones doesn’t earn a starting job, he could be another valuable sixth man like the Ravens already have in Patrick Mekari.

Hearing that Cleveland is working outside of his natural guard position is not a great sign. A massive human in his own right (6-foot-6, 370 pounds), the former third-round pick out of Georgia has started seven of 37 game appearances in his three years with the Ravens but has never displayed a true starting ability.

While some viewed him as an early favorite to fill one of the open starting jobs at guard in 2024, Zrebiec now reports that Cleveland’s stock is trending down after he failed to get the first-team snaps that other candidates for the starting jobs got in OTAs. Seemingly falling behind Andrew Vorhees, Malaesala Aumavae-Laula, Jones, Mekari, and potentially even Faalele, Cleveland is now getting shifted out for looks at tackle.

Heading into the final year of his rookie contract, if Cleveland is going to make an impact, it’s now or never. If Cleveland can’t find a way to contribute in 2024, it’s going to be difficult to justify re-signing the former SEC standout. Decision-makers in Baltimore insist that Cleveland is still in the mix for the guard jobs, and perhaps they’re just trying different methods of motivation to pump Cleveland up for training camp, but trying him out at tackle sends an interesting message.

At tackle, Cleveland won’t likely be in contention for the starting job over second-round selection Roger Rosengarten out of Washington. Even if Rosengarten fails to earn the starting job, Mekari and Jones both have ample starting experience over Cleveland. Cleveland will need to utilize the next two and a half months to prove he’s worthy of not only a pivotal role this year but also a second contract in the future.

Latest On Ravens’ Offensive Line

The Ravens’ offensive line is set to look very different from the group that started throughout their 14-3 campaign last year. Baltimore was home to the league’s MVP winner and top rushing offense thanks in part due to the contributions of right tackle Morgan Moses (now with the Jets), right guard Kevin Zeitler (now with the Lions), and left guard John Simpson (also with the Jets). With the departures of Moses, Zeitler, and Simpson, the team needed to address three starting positions along the offensive front this offseason.

The Ravens will see a few familiar faces return to start in 2024. Tyler Linderbaum, who has excelled since being drafted in the first round in 2022, will return with two years and a fifth-year option remaining on his contract. He has been the top-billed center as advertised, grading in the top seven players at the position each year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Ronnie Stanley also returns at left tackle. The blindside blocker’s inability to stay on the field continued in 2023, though with marked improvement. Though he made 13 starts last year, he only played 100 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in four of those games, often subbing out to be replaced by swing tackle Patrick Mekari.

Mekari returns, as well, set to reprise his usual role as the sixth man on the offensive line. At this point in his career, the veteran Cal product has started games at every position along the offensive line, often grading out better than the players he replaces. Mekari’s value as an emergency starter at any position makes it hard to dedicate him to a single starting spot, but at the end of the day, Baltimore is going to want to start its five best linemen.

To fill the three starting positions vacated, the Ravens are looking internally at draft picks from the past four years. At right tackle, rookie second-round pick Roger Rosengarten is expected to start at some point this year, per Jamison Hensley of ESPN, a bit more certain of a prediction than we had previously received on the subject. The Washington product will compete for the job with 2022 fourth-round selection Daniel Faalele. Faalele has only seen one start in his two years of play, but thanks to the continuous injuries to veterans like Stanley and Moses, Faalele has gotten a good number of injury-relief snaps with the first-team offense.

The drafted players competing for the two guard spots are 2021 third-round pick Ben Cleveland and last year’s sixth- and seventh-round picks, respectively, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and Andrew Vorhees. Cleveland has made starts in each year since getting drafted (seven starts total) but has failed to give Baltimore enough confidence to hand him the reins to the starting role. His starts have always come at the end of the season, usually when the team’s postseason fate has already been decided. In the team’s past two postseason appearances, Cleveland has failed to make a start despite staring the final games in each season.

Aumavae-Laulu and Vorhees are both interesting cases. Aumavae-Laulu was a finalist for the starting left guard job last offseason as a rookie, eventually losing out to Simpson. After not landing the gig, Aumavae-Laulu essentially served a redshirt season, failing to make an appearance in 2023. Vorhees joined Aumavae-Laulu in his redshirt season, recovering from an ACL tear suffered at the scouting combine last year. The USC product was widely viewed as a first- or second-round pick before the injury, allowing the Ravens to bookmark the seventh-rounder as an eventual candidate to start once healthy. Vorhees was also viewed as a candidate to start at right tackle before the draft, but with Rosengarten joining the locker room, Vorhees can likely focus on the interior.

There is at least one outside candidate vying for a starting role. Baltimore signed Josh Jones in free agency back in March as a potential competitor for a starting guard role. Jones has plenty of starting experience over his time with the Cardinals and Texans, starting 24 of 60 game appearances at both guard and tackle. Even if he can’t beat out Cleveland, Aumavae-Laulu, or Vorhees for a starting gig, he could join Mekari as one of two extremely versatile backups.

In the end, there is a lot to look forward to in offseason position battles. Linderbaum and Stanley seem fixed at their center and left tackle starting spots, respectively. Rosengarten should start at right tackle eventually, and if he’s not ready to start Week 1, Mekari, Faalele, Jones, or even Vorhees could man the spot in the meantime. The guard spots are mostly blind right now as the Ravens wait to see who develops into the roles best out of Cleveland, Aumavae-Laulu, Vorhees, and Jones. Expect it to be some combination of two of those four. And even if they fail to earn starting jobs, Mekari and Jones stand to represent two of the stronger backup options in the league and could fill in if any of the new starters falter early.

Regardless of who ends up where, the line is guaranteed to look extremely different in 2024. It will be up to offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, new assistant offensive line coach Travelle Wharton, and new run game coordinator Travis Switzer to make sure the line is as productive as last year’s unit. Having Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry in the backfield should do wonders in helping towards achieving that goal, as well.

Latest On Ravens’ T Situation

Three of the five starting members of Baltimore’s offensive line from 2023 are no longer in place. One of the offseason departures was Morgan Moses, who manned the right tackle spot for the past two years.

Moses was traded to the Jets, allowing him to return to his former team. That decision, along with the free agent departures of guards John Simpson and Kevin Zeitler, has led many to expect the Ravens to focus on an offensive line addition early in the upcoming draft. Doing so would come as no surprise, but the team does have a few in-house options to choose from at the right tackle spot in particular.

Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda reports part of Baltimore’s decision to move on from Moses (who has one year remaining on his contract) was the team’s confidence in the other O-linemen in place. That list includes swing tackle Patrick Mekari and 2022 fourth-rounder Daniel Faalele. The former is a veteran of 71 appearances and 36 starts, having seen time at all five offensive line positions over the course of his career.

The latter, meanwhile, was drafted as a developmental project based on his size (6-8, 380 pounds) and athleticism. The 24-year-old Australian has played sparingly on offense and special teams to date, logging a total of 510 snaps. Taking on a full-time starting role would thus represent a sizable jump in responsibility, but he is a familiar option within the Ravens’ system.

Pauline also names 2023 seventh-round selection Andrew Vorhees as a potential right tackle starter based on how he is viewed by the organization. Vorhees missed his rookie campaign while rehabbing an ACL tear suffered at the Combine, but the absences of Simpson and Zeitler could steer him toward playing time on the inside. In any case, the former first-team All-American blocker could be positioned to take on a notable role up front in 2024.

In free agency, the Ravens helped fill the open spots along the offensive line in part by signing Josh Jones to a one-year deal. The former Cardinals and Texans swingman has experience at both tackle spots, as well as right guard. A decision has yet to be made on where Jones will play in Baltimore, but for now he represents another option to take over from Moses. Still, O-line could remain a draft priority for the Ravens when taking into account left tackle Ronnie Stanley‘s contract situation.

The 30-year-old has battled injuries over the past four years, and he agreed to a pay cut to remain in place for 2024. Stanley’s deal is now set to void next offseason as a result, and the Ravens could use the draft to select a successor. If a familiar face is in place at the opposite spot to begin the coming season, though, it would not come as a surprise.

AFC North Notes: Browns, Monken, Ravens

With Jim Schwartz returning to Cleveland after 28 years, then as a scout, now as defensive coordinator, there are some expected changes to how the Browns‘ defense will get things done. Thanks to Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com, we have a bit of insight into just how things might change in the secondary under Schwartz.

At safety, the team exchanged starter John Johnson III with Juan Thornhill while also bringing in veteran Rodney McLeod, as well. Schwartz brings two interesting factors to the safety position: he likes to play three at one time often and he expects versatility. He doesn’t strictly prescribe to free and strong safety assignments but more often tends to focus on sides of the field. Grant Delpit, Thornhill, and McLeod will be interchangeable and will be asked to line up in many areas.

Versatility will be expected of the cornerbacks, as well, as Schwartz has reportedly been crosstraining all of Cleveland’s defensive backs in the slot. This is welcome news for Greg Newsome II, who reportedly wanted to play more to his strengths on the outside this year. He won’t solely work outside, but with Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson also getting work as nickelbacks this summer, Newsome won’t be asked to shoulder the load in the slot alone.

Here are a few more rumors from around the AFC North:

  • Schwartz is excited to be bringing together two strong pass rushers in Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith on the Browns’ defensive line, according to Cabot. After a year in which Jadeveon Clowney failed to mesh with Garrett, Schwartz is excited about the flexibility that Smith brings to the table. For one, he’s already had the experience of working across from talented pass rushers like Danielle Hunter, Preston Smith, Matt Judon, Terrell Suggs, and Elvis Dumervil. Secondly, Smith provides a versatile attack that allows him to rush from either side, as well as from the interior, when needed.
  • After four years under a huddle-first Greg Roman offense, the Ravens will allow quarterback Lamar Jackson a bit more agency in the offense under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. According to a report from ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Jackson will be given more freedom to audible and make adjustments at the line this season. This is not completely foreign to the recently extended quarterback. Baltimore experimented with this type of offense in a Week 2 game last year against the Dolphins as a counter to Miami’s pressure package. In that game, Jackson threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns while adding 119 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as well. The Ravens will hope to see more of that in 2023, as Jackson is presented with more opportunities to truly lead the offense.
  • We mentioned about two weeks ago that Ravens second-year tackle Daniel Faalele was a candidate to replace former starting left guard Ben Powers, who departed for Denver in free agency in March. Knowing Faalele’s importance in his current role as one of the team’s primary backup tackles, we boiled it down to a battle between Ben Cleveland and John Simpson. A recent report from Hensley, though, claims that head coach John Harbaugh spoke highly of Faalele at the position and refused to rule him out as a potential starter. He praised Simpson’s performance in the position, as well, but it may be time to start considering Faalele as one of the top candidates to start next year.

Four In Running For Ravens’ LG Job?

The Ravens will return four starters from last year’s offensive line in right tackle Morgan Moses, right guard Kevin Zeitler, center Tyler Linderbaum, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. After allowing last season’s starting left guard, Ben Powers, to depart for Denver in free agency, Baltimore has an open spot available on the starting offensive line.

The Ravens are fairly confident in their options to replace Powers. The favorites for the job are utility lineman Patrick Mekari, guards Ben Cleveland and John Simpson, and tackle Daniel Faalele. The team did draft two linemen in Oregon’s Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and USC’s Andrew Vorhees, but Aumavae-Laulu is considered a developmental prospect who can play all over the line, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, while Vorhees’s recent injuries will require him to miss most, if not all, of his rookie season. They also recently added former Bears center Sam Mustipher, but Mustipher is expected to act as an experienced backup center behind Linderbaum.

Mekari and Faalele may be too valuable in their current roles to force into a starting guard spot, even if they would be strong contributors at the position. Mekari has excelled in recent years as a sort of sixth-man for the Ravens’ offensive line. The former undrafted free agent out of Cal has started games at every position on the line for Baltimore usually as an injury replacement. He has the talent to start for many teams, but Baltimore paid him in 2021 to stay and be one of the league’s most talented backups. Faalele on the other hand has the perfect frame to develop into a top tackle. At 6-foot-8, 380 pounds, Faalele could surely be a force on the interior offensive line, but the Ravens want to keep that length on the outside and will likely continue developing him as a tackle.

The battle likely boils down to Cleveland and Simpson. Cleveland was drafted in the third round two years ago with the expectation that he would develop into a starting guard. He lost the battle last year to Powers, but at 6-foot-6, 357 pounds, Cleveland could be an imposing physical presence on the left side of the line. He’s had five starts over his first two years in the league and dealt with a knee injury his rookie year.

Simpson was a late-season addition to the Ravens’ practice squad last year who was signed to a futures contract at the end of the season. He found his way to Baltimore after being waived by the Raiders but is only a year removed from his role as a full-time starting left guard for Las Vegas.

No battles will be won in May, but the Ravens are well set up to use this summer to determine who will be starting in between Linderbaum and Stanley in Week 1 vs. Houston.

AFC North Notes: Mixon, Browns, Steelers

Nearly three weeks into free agency, Joe Mixon remains on the Bengals‘ roster. The team having seen Samaje Perine turn down an offer to stay and instead choose Denver thinned out its running back room. But Mixon’s status for a seventh Bengals season is not yet a lock. Bengals executive VP Katie Blackburn stopped short of guaranteeing the six-year Cincinnati starter will be back, reminding of comments player personnel VP Duke Tobin made at the Combine.

Right now, he’s on the team and we are going count on him until that wouldn’t be the case,” Blackburn said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Kelsey Conway. “Right now, he’s our starting guy. You’ve seen other teams have to make moves. Could we get to that point? Maybe. But it would be down the road here and we’d have to see if that’s what makes sense or not.”

This situation could hinge on how the Bengals approach the position in the draft. Mixon, 26, is due a $9.4MM base salary and is tied to the third-highest cap figure ($12.8MM) on the team. Blackburn did not rule out the possibility of a post-June 1 cut designation, which would save Cincy $10MM, and ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler indicated recently (h/t Bleacher Report) the Bengals are looking to add at running back. (They were linked to Ezekiel Elliott, but little has emerged on that front since.) The Perine offer may have been indicative of Mixon plans. The team could still pair Mixon with a rookie, but it does have some pricey deals — most notably for Joe Burrow — on the horizon. Mixon’s $12MM-per-year deal could be used to create more cap space.

Here is the latest from the AFC North:

  • The Browns attempted a bigger swing at defensive tackle in free agency. Dalvin Tomlinson became an expensive consolation prize, with Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer noting the team was one of the final two suitors for Javon Hargrave. The standout D-tackle signed a four-year, $84MM 49ers deal, denying the DT-needy Browns one of this year’s biggest free agency fish. Cleveland regrouped with Tomlinson, who signed a four-year, $57MM pact. The Browns, who did little at D-tackle ahead of a poor run-defense season in 2022, preferred Tomlinson to fellow target Dre’Mont Jones, Cabot adds. Tomlinson’s acumen as a run defender attracted the Browns more, as Jones profiles as an inside pass rusher rather than a run stopper.
  • Staying in Cleveland, the Browns no longer have a second-round pick thanks to the Elijah Moore pick-swap trade. The Browns eyed Moore since his trade request emerged last year, GM Andrew Berry said (via Cabot). After a dispute with then-Jets OC Mike LaFleur, Moore requested a trade. The Jets were adamant they did not want to trade Moore at the time, but after they signed Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman, the Ole Miss alum became expendable. Still, Cabot adds Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh vouched for Moore’s character to the Browns ahead of the trade.
  • The Steelers traded Chase Claypool for a second-round pick last year, and given their reputation for selecting Day 2 wideouts, it should not surprise the team is being connected to such a move once again. The team will seek an upgrade in the slot, GM Omar Khan said (via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly). Hopeful slot weapon Calvin Austin III missed his entire rookie year due to injury. The team should be considered likely to address this need by Round 3, Kaboly adds in a separate piece. From 2013-22, the Steelers chose eight wideouts on Day 2. Both their current top two receivers — Diontae Johnson and George Pickens — were Friday-night draftees.
  • It does not sound like the Ravens will use a notable resource to replace Ben Powers. John Harbaugh alluded to another competition — one featuring former third-round pick Ben Cleveland, ex-Raiders draftee John Simpson, swingman Patrick Mekari and 2022 fourth-round tackle Daniel Faalele (who is 6-foot-9) as options — being how the team will replace Powers, who won a left guard battle last year. Powers, who scored a four-year Broncos deal worth $52MM, beat out Cleveland in training camp. A draft choice could be added here, but The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec does not anticipate a high pick going to this spot.

Ravens Sign Two Of Three Remaining Unsigned Rookies

One of the few teams who still have unsigned rookies from this year’s draft, Baltimore continued to chip away today, signing two of their three remaining unsigned players. Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele and cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis signed their rookie contracts today with a little under two months to go until their first regular season commences.

Faalele is an Australia-native who moved to the states with no football experience. Faalele was discovered by recruiting staff at the University of Hawai’i while playing basketball and rugby. He had tremendous athleticism for someone his size and, after attending a Jim Harbaugh satellite camp, Faalele was recruited to learn the game of football at the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. IMG’s football team is notorious for taking five-star high school athletes from remote areas of the country and exposing them to some of the highest levels of high school football. After joining the football team in 2016, Faalele became a starter for IMG in 2017 and enrolled early at the University of Minnesota in 2018.

After beginning his freshman year as a backup, Faalele started the final eight games of the season, holding onto his starting job as a sophomore, as well. When Faalele announced he would sit out of the 2020 college football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many assumed he would declare for the draft. Instead, Faalele came back for his senior year and helped return the Golden Gophers to a winning season.

Faalele could potentially see a situation similar to his freshman year during his rookie season. Right now the Ravens are set to trot out Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses as their starting tackles. Moses is competing with Ja’Wuan James for the starting right tackle position currently. Moses and James both have plenty of starting experience, but Moses graded out as only the 40th best offensive tackle last season according to Pro Football Focus and James hasn’t played in an NFL game since the 2019 NFL season. Not to mention, Stanley is expected to start the season but has only played in one game since signing an historic contract back in 2020. Any number of situations could play out that see Faalele force his 6’9″, 400 lb. frame into the starting lineup.

Armour-Davis had extremely limited playing time during his first three years at Alabama, spending his freshman season taking a medical redshirt and the next two seasons as a special teamer. As a redshirt junior, Armour-Davis was named a starting cornerback and led the team with three interceptions on the year, adding four passes defensed and not allowing a single touchdown. He played mostly on the outside but has the scheme versatility to fit in with any system.

Baltimore’s secondary is one of the most-talented in the NFL but a lack of depth bit the team hard in 2021 when starting cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both suffered season-ending injuries. With the departures of Tavon Young and Anthony Averett, Armous-Davis immediately slots in as the team’s No. 3 or 4 cornerback behind Peters, Humphrey, and, possibly, free agent addition Kyle Fuller. Armous-Davis’ playing will likely come on resting downs for Peters or Humphrey. Due to the team’s enviable depth at safety, a nickel- or dime-package might feature three or four safeties, unless Fuller can cement himself as a slot-cornerback.

With Faalele and Armous-Davis now under contract, Michigan second-round pick David Ojabo remains as Baltimore’s only unsigned rookie. Ojabo announced an early departure from Ann Arbor after one year of starting opposite the second-overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, Aidan Hutchinson. Considered by most to be a first-round talent, Ojabo slipped into the second round after tearing his Achilles tendon while working out for scouts at the Wolverines’ Pro Day.

Ravens Eyeing Ja’Wuan James As Ronnie Stanley Insurance

Ronnie Stanley has played one game since an October 2020 ankle injury sidetracked his career, suiting up for the Ravens’ opener last season but missing the rest of the 2021 campaign due to more ankle trouble. The Ravens are hoping their highest-paid offensive lineman returns to start this season, but after Stanley said he was rushed back in 2021, the team is proceeding cautiously.

The former top-10 pick has undergone three ankle surgeries since the initial injury, and he is coming off a 68-snap season. The Ravens’ backup plan, however, looks to be a player who has dealt with worse injury trouble. If Stanley is not ready to return to start this season, Ja’Wuan James is the favorite to be Baltimore’s left tackle starter, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

James, 30, has Stanley beat for unavailability. Making their biggest attempt to address a long-troublesome right tackle position, the Broncos gave James a four-year, $51MM deal in 2019. James played all of 63 snaps in Denver, suffering a knee injury in Week 1 of the 2019 season. That malady kept James out most of that year. After the ex-Dolphins first-rounder opted out in 2020, an offsite Achilles tear last May led him out of Denver. The Ravens signed James shortly after the Broncos cut him, giving him a two-year deal for stashing purposes. The team will be expecting a return on investment in Year 2 of this deal.

The Ravens gave James some late-season practice time last year, opening his IR-return window. Months later, James participated at Baltimore’s minicamp. John Harbaugh said last month he did not notice the veteran tackle’s Achilles issue, but padded practices will certainly reveal more about James’ viability with the Ravens. The Dolphins used James as their right tackle from 2014-18, and the Broncos had no intention of moving him. A left tackle gig, following this extensive run of absences, would be an interesting development. If James is not ready to go come September, the Ravens could also cut their losses and save $3MM.

While James looms as an atypical fill-in option, the Ravens also re-signed their primary 2021 right tackle — Patrick Mekari — and drafted mammoth Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele in Round 4. The team was linked to earlier-round tackles but waited until Day 3 to address the spot. Mekari, who has primarily played center and right tackle, appears an ideal swing option for Baltimore. The Ravens signed Morgan Moses to replace Mekari at right tackle.

The team also would prefer to give the 380-pound Faalele a redshirt year of sorts, Zrebiec adds. Given the injury toll teams take up front, that might be difficult to do, as the Ravens will need to carry Faalele on its 53-man roster. But it appears the ex-Golden Gopher is viewed more as a project, with Zrebiec referencing the Eagles’ Jordan Mailata developmental program.

Release Candidate: Ravens OT Alejandro Villanueva

In the week before the 2021 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens gave in to the wishes of Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and traded him away to the Chiefs. This trade left a hole on the Ravens’ offensive line opposite All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley. To address this issue, the Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva, a free agent whom the Steelers felt ready to move on from

After not falling in love with any of the tackles the Draft had to offer at their position in the early rounds, Baltimore opted for a stopgap solution, signing Villanueva to a two-year deal worth $14MM. Villanueva had performed admirably over his sevens years in Pittsburgh, but was never really considered an elite tackle. His best years saw him make consecutive Pro Bowls in the 2017 and 2018 NFL seasons.

As a Raven, Villanueva did his job, and then was asked to do more. After four years of starting at left tackle as a Steeler, Villanueva struggled initially when asked to fill in at right tackle. He got to go back to his more natural position after ankle surgery sidelined Stanley for the all but one game of the 2021 season.

Villanueva had an up and down year. Often Villanueva’s age showed during some rough outings, but the 33-year-old showed some resiliency, playing through some discomfort knowing that another absence for the injury-devastated Ravens could spell disaster. He seemed to find his footing with time, though, playing a pretty good stretch of football to end the season.

But was Villanueva’s performance in 2021 worthy of a $9.25MM cap hit in 2022? Likely not. The Ravens will hope for a strong return for Stanley and they signed Ja’Wuan James to a low $9MM, two-year contract knowing that he likely would be out with a torn Achilles tendon for much of the 2021 season. The likeliest scenario sees Baltimore cutting Villanueva loose to rely on a combination of Stanley and James to bookend the offensive line. The Ravens also recently signed utility offensive lineman Patrick Mekari to a three-year extension. The former undrafted free agent has started at all three offensive line positions for Baltimore and could continue to fill in at right tackle until the next franchise tackle shows up.

Baltimore could also opt to address the position in the 2022 NFL Draft. While, with the 14th overall pick, the Ravens are not in a position to take one of the Draft’s more exciting tackle prospects like NC State’s Ikem Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal, if Mississippi State’s Charles Cross were to fall to Baltimore, the Ravens, who are known for drafting for value over fit, would likely find it hard to pass on Cross’s potential. Cross, who ranks as the 8th best Draft prospect on The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s Top 100, impresses many evaluators, but, reportedly, hasn’t convinced the entire league that he’s a top ten draft pick. If the Ravens were to trade back later into the first round, another common move by the draft-savvy franchise, they could find smaller school prospects like Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann falling into their laps. They could even wait until their second-round or third-round selections come up and opt to take a flyer on Minnesota’s massive Daniel Faalele or Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere, respectively.

Regardless, most paths that make sense for Baltimore don’t entail the team stomaching a $9.25MM cap hit for a tackle that struggled much of the year for them. Turning 34 at the beginning of the 2022 season, Villanueva could save the Ravens the trouble and simply retire. Whether retired or released, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see Villanueva in purple and black next season.