The Chiefs dominated the offensive line market; they signed former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Thuney and the unretired Kyle Long. In an attempt to fix their fragile line, the Chargers paid up for former Packers standout Corey Lindsley agreeing to a five-year $62.5 million deal. Meanwhile, some lower-profile signings like Pal Elfein (three-year $13.5 million deal) and Cameron Irving (two-Year $10 million deal) will undoubtedly help fortify the Panthers line. The most important signing of the offseason for big men upfront was standout guard Kevin Zeitler.
Zeitler, formerly of the Cleveland Browns and most recently the New York Giants, agreed to a three-year $22.5 million deal with the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens. Though the total value is hardly lofty, the former first-round pick will help fill the void left by retired great Marshall Yanda. Having played 1025 snaps at right guard in 2020, Zeitler finished as the 32nd (65.9) ranked guard according to Pro Football Focus. The signing is a significant upgrade over the projected starter Tyree Phillips, who graded out as the 74th best player at right guard (47.1).
Zeitler is a pillar of consistency who will bring discipline to a Ravens squad in need of such. In 2020 they committed the fifth-most penalties; their new guard has committed five or more in a season just once. Further, he is a much needed stabilizing force in pass protection, having not allowed more than three sacks since his rookie season. The former Wisconsin Badger has graded out as a premier pass blocker since joining the NFL. Only two years removed from a career-high 91.7 figure, boasting a career average of 80.4 as a pass protector over nine seasons, Zeitler can still be relied on as an anchor.
Although Zeitler is known for his pass protection prowess, he is no slouch in the run game. He graded above 70 in five of nine seasons and has a career grade of 72. Such consistency in the run game is key for the Ravens as they ran the ball off the right guard 59 times. There was an additional 159 attempts at the right end (accounting for 35.22 percent of their attempts in 2020). It led to their success rate of 53 percent and 69 percent being significant factors for the Ravens leading in nearly all rushing categories over the last two seasons.
The best part of the signing was the potential return of value. The deal for Kevin Zeitler contains just a $4,050,000 cap hit for 2021, allowing Baltimore to make subsequent moves upfront or address their wide receiver core. Stabilizing Jackson’s pass protection is crucial to his development. The Ravens MVP quarterback has a clean pocket percentage of 76.5 percent (9th) but falls to 36.3 percent (24th) when pressured.
Though the off-season is long and strenuous, the signing of the former Pro-Bowl lineman is a massive step in the right direction for Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens front office. Innovative organizations more often than not take intelligent risks on veterans seen to be at a small downswing in their career, and Baltimore proved no exception.
Kevin Zeitler was an A+ move for the Raven’s front office from a scheme fit and pass protection upgrade. In 2019 the Baltimore Ravens lit the NFL on fire with an electric offense. In 2020 they improved on this by securing their first playoff victory in the Lamar Jackson era. Building a better cast in the trenches is a sure-fire way to get the Ravens off and running for the 2021 season. Look for general manager Eric DeCosta to continue making intelligent and cost-effective moves to build around their young star Lamar Jackson.