OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Already perceived to be too thin at the cornerback position, the Ravens have learned they’ll be without one of the NFL’s top players at the position for an “indeterminate” period of time.
Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey underwent foot surgery on Wednesday after dealing with a “lingering” issue that needed to be addressed, according to head coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens aren’t ready to rule out Humphrey for the start of the regular season in 3 1/2 weeks, but an NFL Network report indicated the organization hopes the 27-year-old can return to action in a little over a month, which would still sideline him for a key AFC North clash at Cincinnati in Week 2.
Harbaugh said Humphrey’s return timeline has yet to be determined, but his absence was “not going to be a long-term deal though.” Humphrey hadn’t missed a single practice in training camp until Wednesday and even spoke to reporters after Tuesday morning’s joint practice with Washington. The 2017 first-round pick out of Alabama now headlines an extensive list of Baltimore cornerbacks who are currently sidelined, a group including projected starter Rock Ya-Sin (knee), Jalyn Armour-Davis (undisclosed), Arthur Maulet (hamstring), Damarion Williams (ankle surgery), and Trayvon Mullen (toe surgery). Ya-Sin, Armour-Davis, and Maulet have all been running this week and are expected to return to practice in the near future.
Of course, no one on the current roster comes close to replicating what Humphrey does for the Baltimore defense, and the results haven’t been pretty when Humphrey has missed snaps over the last few seasons.
“It definitely hurts the defense when a leader like Marlon is not out there with us, but I know he’ll get back as soon as he can,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “We’ll try to pick up the slack when he’s not out there. But I’m looking forward to him being up there pretty soon.”
Days after the 2023 draft, Baltimore signed Ya-Sin to a one-year deal to replace three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, who remained a free agent until signing with Las Vegas last month. Any remaining veterans on the free-agent market come with questions about their health, performance, or scheme fit, and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald does appear to have some options for the nickel spot, which would still include starting safety Kyle Hamilton. Outside cornerback is a difference story, however, as Brandon Stephens — who had moved back to safety earlier this spring and summer — and veteran special-teams contributor Kevon Seymour played there extensively in the preseason opener and now appear to be the top healthy options with Ya-Sin and Armour-Davis still working their way back to practice.
With many clamoring for the Ravens to add help at cornerback long before the Humphrey news, cries will grow louder for general manager Eric DeCosta to make a meaningful addition before Week 1. The Ravens recently hosted veteran cornerback William Jackson for a free-agent visit and local product Kyle Fuller remains a free agent, but their best bet to add an impact outside corner may have to come via trade.
“We’ll look at [free-agent corners], but you have to understand it’s late,” Harbaugh said. “Most guys are on teams right now, so part of that with the guys who are veteran guys is who’s in shape? Who’s been working? Who really wants to play this year? If you’re a guy that’s out [there] and you’ve got some pedigree, you have to be in shape. You have to be ready to go. When you look at that, it’s really on those guys to be ready to play.”
While Harbaugh says there’s no long-term concern at the position, the Ravens had to know Humphrey was the player they could least afford to lose for even a short period of time other than franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson. And in a season in which they were already counting on one or two young corners to develop into viable depth pieces at the very least, they’ll have to lean harder on a Humphrey-less group that’s more unproven inventory than trustworthy depth until proven otherwise.
The Ravens certainly need Ya-Sin to be a quality starter and can only hope someone else is ready to step up. They’re definitely going to miss their elite cornerback for the time being.
“There’s plenty of short-term concern. We’ve got to look at that, and it starts with the guys you have,” Harbaugh said. “We have guys that are ready to play and now have an opportunity to get out there and continue to improve and get the reps. We’ll see what they can do. And, of course, we’re always looking for players too.”