The Baltimore Ravens Must Be Willing to Lose $3 Million in Cutting Alejandro Villanueva to Better Protect Lamar Jackson

The 2021 NFL season didn’t go as planned for the Baltimore Ravens. John Harbaugh’s squad entered training camp with one of the deepest rosters in the league. Injuries decimated the locker room, and the Ravens were unable to recover. Lamar Jackson finished the season on the bench, thanks to a nagging injury. Baltimore must do a better job at protecting him in 2022. The front office should make a shrewd money move and part ways with Alejandro Villanueva.

The Ravens should cut ties with Alejandro Villanueva

The Ravens signed Alejandro Villanueva to a two-year $14 million contract before the 2021 season. The deal included $8 million guaranteed.

Baltimore brought in the veteran offensive lineman to help bolster its front line after trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs. Villanueva played the first six seasons of his NFL career with the AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the former Steelers Pro Bowler, the Ravens gained another veteran leader in the locker room. They also hoped the offseason gamble would pay off on the field.

Villanueva started all 17 games for Baltimore in 2021. The Army product had an up and down season, but he had more negatives than positives when it was all said and done. He allowed nine sacks on the year, which tied for the second-most in the NFL.

Most of Villanueva’s snaps came at left tackle, making matters worse. He took over Lamar Jackson’s blindside after Ronnie Stanley went down in Week 1. The 33-year-old was better in run blocking but not good enough to overlook his struggles in pass protection.

Pro Football Focus gave Villanueva a grade of 65.1 for the 2021 season.

Although Villanueva is under contract through 2022, the Ravens could save $6 million by releasing the veteran. As a result, just over $3 million would count against the salary cap.

Protecting Lamar Jackson must be a priority in the offseason

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is knocked to the ground due to poor protection from Alejandro Villanueva and the offensive line
Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens reacts during game against the Cleveland Browns | Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Alejandro Villanueva’s woes were on full display, especially playing the prominent left tackle position. However, the problems don’t fall solely on his shoulders. The entire unit must be better heading into 2022.

While the Ravens have certainly had some offensive-line talent, inconsistency plagued the unit throughout the 2021 season.

The problems started when starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley suffered a setback in the season-opening loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. The Notre Dame product sustained an ankle injury that ended his 2020 season. His absence forced John Harbaugh to move Villanueva from right tackle to left.

Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, and rookie Ben Cleveland projected as solid young pieces, but all three battled injuries in 2021. Veteran right guard Kevin Zeitler was the team’s most consistent offensive lineman. He started every game in his first season with the Ravens.

Baltimore signed Patrick Mekari to an extension, which will keep him under contract through the 2024 season. He may not be a Pro Bowl talent, but his experience playing multiple positions is invaluable.

Opposing defenses sacked Lamar Jackson 38 times in 2021, ninth-most among starting NFL quarterbacks. The former MVP often played hero ball because he was running for his life, trying to escape pressure.

Protecting the franchise quarterback should be priority No. 1 for general manager Eric DeCosta and the front office in the offseason.

Baltimore is a few pieces away from contending for a Super Bowl

The Baltimore Ravens finished with an 8-9 record after losing six straight games to close out the regular season. As bad as that sounds, this team was lucky to win eight games.

If the Ravens made the playoffs, John Harbaugh would’ve deserved strong consideration for the Coach of the Year Award. Baltimore suffered injury after injury to significant pieces on both sides of the ball. J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Marlon Humphrey, and Marcus Peters are just a few of the players who suffered season-ending injuries along the way.

If the Ravens can shake the injury bug and enter 2022 healthy, they could be back in AFC contention again. However, Baltimore must address its glaring needs to get over the hump and reach the Super Bowl.

Eric DeCosta should prioritize offensive line in the draft and free agency. The 2022 NFL Draft features several promising offensive line prospects, including Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum, Kentucky’s Darian Kinnard, and Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele.

While improving Lamar Jackson’s protection plan should be the top priority, the Ravens also have holes to fill on defense. Baltimore has building blocks in place, but it needs some youth on the defensive line and more consistency at linebacker and safety.

The 2021 season is more of an outlier due to injuries than anything else. The Ravens could be right back in the mix with a solid offseason.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.

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