Center Matt Birk started every game for the Ravens for the last four seasons.
But now the six-time Pro Bowler is heading off into retirement, putting the job in the hands of former fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski. The Delaware product was drafted as Birk's eventual successor, but the Ravens still need to add at least one more center to the roster before next season who could also compete with Gradkowski.* *
There will be some veterans available on the market this year, and here's a look at who the Ravens* *could target:
Dan Koppen, Denver BroncosUnrestricted (11th season), 33, 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
In his first season with the Broncos, the veteran lineman played in 15 games and started 12 of them. Before coming to Denver, Koppen had spent his first nine NFL seasons in New England as the Patriots starting center. Given his age, Koppen could be an affordable target for the Ravens. He's been a starter his entire career, so he may also look for a destination where he's the clear favorite for a starting job.
Todd McClure, Atlanta FalconsUnrestricted (14th season), 36, 6-1, 296
McClure has spent his entire career with the Falcons, and has started every game that he's played over the last 12 seasons. McClure is a reliable veteran center that has anchored the Falcons offensive line. If the Falcons allow him to get away in free agency, he could become an attractive piece for the Ravens.
Brad Meester, Jacksonville JaguarsUnrestricted (13th season), 36, 6-3, 292
The former second-round pick has been the Jaguars' starting center for more than a decade, and hasn't missed a start in the last four years. He has been durable during his time in Jacksonville, but his play has dropped off in recent years. Meester has said that he would prefer to remain in Jacksonville, but it's not a guarantee that the Jaguars bring him back. If he's not retained in Jacksonville, he may consider retirement.
Fernando Velasco, Tennessee TitansUnrestricted (4th season), 28, 6-4, 312
Velasco is coming off the best season of his career, in which he won the Titans' starting job and played at a high level. He's arguably the top center that will hit free agency this offseason, so his price may be too high for the Ravens. Velasco can play center and left guard, so he could be an attractive player to the Ravens if his contract demands aren't too high.
Chris Spencer, Chicago BearsUnrestricted (8th season), 30, 6-3, 309
The veteran lineman is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss six games last season. He played center and guard last year for the Bears, and is a versatile interior lineman, which could be of interest to the Ravens. Spencer is not expected to get a big-time deal, which may make him a target to the Ravens in the second wave of free agency.
Other notable names:
- Joe Berger, Minnesota Vikings
- Dylan Gandy, Detroit Lions
- * *Russ Hochstein, Kansas City
- Jeff Saturday, Green Bay