Veteran guard Zeitler, Ravens agree to three-year, $22.5 million deal

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Just over a year to the day that eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda announced his retirement, the Ravens have finally found his replacement.

Baltimore has agreed to a three-year contract with 10th-year right guard Kevin Zeitler, who was cut by the New York Giants for salary cap purposes last week. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $22.5 million and includes $16 million guaranteed and came just hours before the NFL’s official free agency negotiating period began. Zeitler, 31, being released meant his signing wouldn’t count against the compensatory pick formula, which is always the preference of general manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens. The contract won’t become official until the passing of his physical.

Having played a combined seven seasons with Cincinnati and Cleveland, Zeitler is no stranger to the AFC North and has started 134 games in his career. The 2012 first-round pick from Wisconsin has played his entire pro career at right guard and will presumably step into Yanda’s old spot after three different young players — Tyre Phillips, Patrick Mekari, and Ben Powers — made starts and mostly struggled there in 2020. Pro Football Focus graded Zeitler 32nd among 80 qualified guards in 2020 — the lowest mark of his career — but he graded 12th or better in five of the six previous years and may have had a Pro Bowl or two to his name if not for Yanda’s dominance at the position for nearly a decade.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Zeitler immediately becomes the Ravens’ most experienced offensive lineman and should bring stability to a right side that may no longer include right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. if the two-time Pro Bowl selection’s trade wish is granted. At the start of the offseason, both DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh expressed a desire to improve the interior offensive line after the Ravens had difficulties at right guard and center in 2020. Zeitler’s biggest strength is his pass blocking, but he’s also excelled as a run blocker and will be joining a historic rushing attack that’s gained more than 6,300 yards over the last two seasons.

“I think one of the things we have to do is get better up front with pass protection,” DeCosta said in late January. “Losing Ronnie Stanley [to an ankle injury] was definitely a tough deal for the offensive line to handle. Orlando did a great job [moving to left tackle], and I think the offensive line in general really battled versus some adversity this year. But pass protection is going to be a factor. I think that having [spring organized team activities] this year — if we can — [and] more practice time would be a big thing.”

Securing Zeitler settles one position for the interior, but offensive line questions remain beyond Brown’s immediate future with the organization. The Ravens have previously considered moving starting left guard Bradley Bozeman to center — the position he played in college at Alabama — but Zeitler’s arrival may provide enough stability inside to finally make that change and allow younger options to compete at left guard. There’s also the health of Stanley, who underwent two ankle surgeries and wouldn’t have a clear backup at left tackle if Brown were to be traded. Harbaugh reconfirmed last week that Stanley should be ready to go for “at least” training camp.

Zeitler’s durability is another plus for the Ravens as he’s missed only one game over the last six seasons. Over his first nine seasons, he played in 15 games against Baltimore, including the Ravens’ 27-13 win over New York in Week 16 last season.