The Ravens re-signed versatile offensive lineman James Hurst to a four-year deal, the team announced Monday afternoon, just as the legal tampering window of free agency opened.
Hurst proved he is a capable of being a full-time starting guard last year, and can back up both tackle spots as well. He's never missed a game in his four seasons.
"This is good news for our football team," said Head Coach John Harbaugh. "James is a reliable, tough and versatile player who has played a lot of football for us. He has started at both tackle and guard, and all he has been is productive and someone who has made us better."
The deal is valued at $17.5 million with $8 million guaranteed, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The average salary of $4.4 million would rank 25th among NFL guards, per Spotrac, and he brings additional value because of his versatility.
"This feels great," Hurst said after signing his deal. "I've been here four years already, so I'm really excited to come back for four more and build on what we started."
Re-signing Hurst also gives the Ravens flexibility moving forward this offseason, as it remains to be seen what will happen with unrestricted free agent center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard ($5 million cap hit, $3 million cap savings), who has been rumored to be a potential cap casualty. Fellow guard/tackle Alex Lewis is coming off shoulder surgery, which sidelined him all last year.
Hurst's return helps the Ravens continue to build on the momentum they had up front last season. He started 15 games at left guard and one at left tackle and had a very solid year, helping what was viewed as a patchwork offensive line finish as one of the top in the league.
Only six teams gave up fewer sacks than the Ravens' 27 last year, and Hurst only surrendered three, per Pro Football Focus. Baltimore's run game ranked 11th in the league, and Hurst was a key part in Greg Roman's run scheme, often used to pull and seal off defenders.
It was Hurst's first year ever playing guard at any level. He was a left tackle at North Carolina and the Ravens' top backup tackle for his first three years. Hurst saw a whopping 18 starts at tackle, including two in the 2014 playoffs.
"I still have a lot of room to grow," Hurst said. "Last year was my first year playing guard. Having 16 games and now coming back and having more games and practice at that position, getting more and more experience, will only help me."
An undrafted rookie free agent in 2014, Hurst is a quick learner and hard worker who has become a favorite of Baltimore's coaches. He added more muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame last year and has continued to become more of a technician along the line.
"I imagine this day is kind of like what draft day should have been like had it worked out," Hurst said with a chuckle. "But it all worked out now. My whole family is extremely happy. It's a huge blessing."