With free agency looming, the Ravens made a pair of roster moves March 12, re-signing versatile offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year deal and releasing veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb.
Hurst, originally signed as an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina four years ago, was set to become a free agent this week. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the deal is worth $17.5 million, with $8 million guaranteed.
Hurst started all last season at left guard after an injury sidelined Alex Lewis during the preseason, and before Lewis' injury, Hurst appeared in line to be the starting right tackle. Hurst started five games at left tackle as a rookie in 2014 and has made starts at four positions in his career; he has 15 starts at left guard, 14 at left tackle, one at right tackle and two as an extra tight end in a "jumbo" formation.
He is also one of just four players, and two non-specialists, who have appeared in every game throughout the past four years. (The others are defensive back Anthony Levine, punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker.)
Fans maligned Hurst early in his career, especially after
he rolled into quarterback Joe Flacco's leg
on the play that resulted in Flacco's torn ACL in 2015, but coaches have consistently praised his versatility, intelligence and work ethic.
"This is good news for our football team," head coach John Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. "James is a reliable, tough and versatile player who has played a lot of football for us. He has started at both tackle and guard, and all he has been is productive and someone who has made us better."
Hurst's role on the line is probably unsettled again, but his new deal certainly suggests the Ravens view him as a starter. Hurst could stay at left guard, where he developed into a solid starter this year, with Lewis sliding out to right tackle, or Hurst could move to right tackle. Either way, Hurst's signing clouds the future of tackle Austin Howard. He is under contract through 2019, but the team would clear $3 million in cap space if he is cut.
Meanwhile, Webb implied via twitter that he has been let go.
Webb's release clears about $1.75 million in cap space, but this move also speaks to the veteran's declining role on a team with several promising young defensive backs.
Webb, 32, played in all 16 games last season, including two starts at nickel corner. He finished the season with 39 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions, which he recorded in the first two games of the season. But Webb's role was diminished once cornerback Maurice Canady returned from injured reserve; Webb averaged seven defensive snaps throughout the final four games of the season.
With Tavon Young expected to be recovered from a torn ACL, and with safety Chuck Clark returning after making significant strides late in his rookie season to back up Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, there isn't much room for Webb, the fifth-longest tenured member of the team not counting a one-month separation last spring. (He was released last March, then re-signed to a cheaper contract a month later.)
A third-round draft pick out of Nicholls State in 2009, Webb played nine seasons with the Ravens, appearing in 127 regular-season games, with 85 starts. Strong in run support throughout his career, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Webb totaled 475 tackles, 15 interceptions, five sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Webb also served as the Ravens' return specialist at times, with a 95-yard kickoff return as a rookie and a 68-yard punt return touchdown in 2011.
Viewed as a rising star of the Ravens' defense as his first contract wound down, Webb was signed to a $50 million extension in 2012. But that season he suffered his second ACL injury and missed the final 10 games of the regular season and the team's Super Bowl run. He moved to safety and started every game in 2016, but the signing of Jefferson relegated Webb to a backup role at safety and at corner.
An Alabama native, Webb has been active in the Baltimore community throughout his career, including a popular charity softball game held each summer.
Webb's release is the first of several potential roster cuts for the Ravens as they look to create more salary cap space to upgrade their roster after they finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the third straight year.
Free agency officially begins March 14, but as of March 12, teams could begin negotiating with pending free agents from other teams.