Kevin Zeitler had several teams he could have signed with during free agency, but when he looked at the Ravens he kept seeing things that he liked.
The Ravens have been the NFL's top running team the past two seasons, which is very attractive to a right guard like Zeitler who loves smashmouth football. Zeitler also liked the idea of blocking for Lamar Jackson, the league's most electrifying running quarterback. The fact that Baltimore has made the playoffs the past three seasons also weighed heavily on Zeitler's mind, as a 31-year-old veteran who has never won a playoff game, and who has not been to the playoffs since 2015.
Zeitler said every team that tried to sign him made a strong pitch. But after inking a three-year contract with the Ravens, Zeitler has no doubt he made the best decision.
"Winning and being on a great established team was definitely – no matter where I went, that was going to be part of it," Zeitler said during an introductory video conference. "After talking to Coach [John Harbaugh] and everything, I thought it fit what I do well with my run blocking and everything. I just thought for me and my family right now, Baltimore was the place to be."
Though he is still familiarizing himself his new surroundings, Zeitler feels very comfortable returning to the AFC North after spending five seasons (2012-16) with the Cincinnati Bengals and two seasons (2017-18) with the Cleveland Browns. After spending the past two years with the New York Giants, Zeitler is returning to a division he knows best, joining a team that is committed to running the football.
"Every O-lineman you ask, 'Hey, what do you want to do?' They all want to be run-blocking, because that usually means you have the lead, or you're controlling the game, or dominating up front," Zeitler said. "The Ravens have established that that's what they're going to do, and I have a hard time believing they're going to change that up now."
As a member of the Browns in 2018, Zeitler was on the opposite sideline Week 17 during Jackson's rookie season when he completed 14 of 24 passes for 179 yards, and also ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns during a 26-24 victory that clinched a playoff spot for Baltimore. Zeitler knew he was watching a special talent in Jackson, and he's looking forward to giving him more operating room to use his ability.
Jackson is a gifted runner, but providing him with more time to throw from the pocket was a priority for the Ravens heading into the offseason. Zeitler's talents as both a run blocker and pass blocker fit what Baltimore was looking for, and he looks forward to making blocks while Jackson makes things happen.
"After going against him many times and losing many times, I'm very excited for him to be on my side this time," Zeitler said. "The things he can do at any given time, I mean … I really don't know if there's a player in the NFL that can do it like him. There definitely isn't, and that's exciting. It's a really cool opportunity to work with that."
Zeitler's durability is one of his most impressive attributes. He has only missed one game the past five seasons, and he has missed just five games during his nine-year career. It takes good fortune to stay that healthy, but Zeitler takes pride in the way he prepares.
"I really take my strength and conditioning seriously, but I also take the recovery and all the other body work very seriously – massage, acupuncture, doing different things, yoga," Zeitler said on an upcoming episode of 'The Lounge' podcast. "It's just what I enjoy doing. This whole offseason I'm always trying to learn something new, do something new, whatever it takes to keep out there. The only way you can affect games is if you're out there helping the team, and I want to be out there."
Zeitler had a phone conversation with former Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, an eight-time Pro Bowler, that helped Zeitler decide to sign with Baltimore. The Ravens' offensive line missed Yanda last season in his first year of retirement, but Zeitler doesn't feel extra pressure to live up to Yanda's standards. Zeitler has high standards of his own, and he is comfortable with what he brings to table, believing his addition will help Baltimore accomplish its goal of winning a championship.
"The Ravens have a nice offensive line history," Zeitler said. "You think of Yanda, some of the tackles and the current tackles. It's not so much about being Marshal, it's about being the best version of me I can be."