On the same day that long-time special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Jerry Rosburg announced his retirement following 11 seasons with the Ravens, the team agreed to terms with special teams standout Justin Bethel on a two-year deal.
Bethel, a sixth-round pick in 2012, spent the 2018 season with the Atlanta Falcons following a six-year stint in Arizona with the Cardinals. The 28-year-old made the Pro Bowl three times from 2013-15 on special teams.
Bethel played exclusively on special teams for Atlanta in 2018, but he’s started 14 games at cornerback with four interceptions. Three of those picks went back for touchdowns. He owns 151 career tackles, four forced fumbles, six recoveries, and 19 passes defensed.
The dollar figure of Bethel’s contract has not been made public yet, but this will end up being an affordable contract that will bolster the Ravens special teams unit. Rosburg’s departure leaves the Ravens without a coach who’s special teams units consistently ranked among the best in the NFL. Adding an accomplished special teams veteran below the age of 30 will be extremely helpful to new special teams coordinator Chris Horton.
Upon first glance, this signing could lead to fans wondering if the addition of Bethel increases the chances of the Ravens releasing fellow cornerback Jimmy Smith, who carries a $15.85 million cap hit in the final year of his contract. The Ravens secondary is among the deepest areas of the roster. There’s a solid mix of veterans – the recently-signed Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Smith – and young talent – Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady – all expected to make the team in 2018. But when you realize that Bethel played solely special teams in 2018, his addition shouldn’t impact the chances of Smith becoming a cap casualty.
In the big picture, this is an under-the-radar addition that will bolster the depth on the Ravens special teams units. Even though players assigned to special teams roles spend the least amount of time on the field, kicking plays and return plays can change the complexity of games. Rosburg consistently developed talented special teams units. Given John Harbaugh’s history as a special teams coach (and hearing how often he stresses the importance of special teams), this kind of addition is right up his alley.
Image Credit: Atlanta Falcons