Let Go By Raiders, Austin Howard Has Been a Hit in Baltimore


Three years ago, Austin Howard signed a five-year, $30 million deal with the Oakland Raiders.

He didn't make it to the fourth year.

The Raiders released the offensive tackle on July 28, just more than two months ago. In a long Instagram post that morning, Howard said it was upsetting that "business gets in the way of a good thing."

Well, this Sunday, Austin will return to Oakland with a good thing now going in Baltimore.

After signing a three-year contract with the Ravens, Howard is among the top offensive tackles in the NFL through the first quarter of the season, according to grades by Pro Football Focus.

He is tied with the seventh-best overall grade for tackles, and third-best among right tackles. He's graded as the second-best run blocker in the league, only trailing the Indianapolis Colts' Anthony Costanzo.

Per PFF, he's been the Ravens' best offensive player so far this season, and it's not that close. Howard has a plus-5.8 run blocking grade and has allowed zero sacks, two quarterback hits and five hurries.

"Austin's a great addition to this football team," Offensive Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's going to get better every week, like all of us will. We're happy to have him."

Howard isn't getting too emotionally wrapped up in his Oakland return. Talking about it now, he's not too stirred up about how things ended there either.

Howard battled through a shoulder injury for much of last season. He played in 11 games and started 10. It was the first time he played in a game without starting it since 2011.

At the end of the year, Howard had shoulder surgery and the Raiders, who have invested a lot of money into their offensive line, including signing former Raven Kelechi Osemele during the 2016 offseason, brought in veteran Marshall Newhouse. Howard saw the writing on the wall.

"I was coming off a shoulder surgery, rehabbing well, felt really good and then they had to make a choice. That choice was for me to be released," Howard said. "It's kind of inevitable in everybody's career. You kind of get a sense for what's going on, but thankfully the Ravens picked me up."

Just like Sunday's game will be a homecoming for Howard, who says he's still friends with a bunch of Raiders players, Baltimore was also home for Howard.

Howard spent less than two months as a Raven in 2011 when he was still trying to get his big break in the league. An undrafted talent out of Northern Iowa in 2010, he originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and played in four games as a rookie, including one start.

He was released by the Eagles the following season when he supposedly wasn't a fit for the new offensive line scheme (he had to lose 15 pounds and was still considered too big). The Ravens picked him up, but he never suited up in a game for Baltimore until this year.

Howard bounced to the New York Jets during the 2011 season and became a full-time starter the following year. He's been a starter, besides that one game last year, ever since.

And now with a three-year contract in hand from Baltimore, he's an instrumental part of the Ravens' offensive line. Despite being the new guy, the eight-year veteran is by far the most experienced member on the Ravens' line after Marshal Yanda's season-ending injury.

There was a lot of concern about right tackle when Ricky Wagner left in free agency. Howard has silenced the worries.

"We have a good coaching staff here and a great group of players in our offensive line group, as well as in this offense," Howard said. "I think it's a matter of growth and understanding how to go out there and mesh with the group of guys. Fortunately, it's worked out for me so far, but it's not perfect."

Howard will have his hands full against his former teammates in the Coliseum. The Raiders have a fearsome trio of pass rushers with Khalil Mack (four sacks), Mario Edwards Jr. (three sacks) and Bruce Irvin (one sack).

"[Mack] is one of the best in the game. That's a fact," Howard said, saying he expects to see a different player Sunday than he faced in practice.

"I was with that group of guys for a long time and still have friends on that team. It's going to be a unique experience, but I have to take it as another game. This one can't have more importance than another one even though, for me, it may."

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