This is a classic Ozzie Newsome move. The Ravens' long-time general manager is known for making a shrewd pickup in training camp (or even later), and it's often intended to provide help or depth at offensive tackle.
Right before the season opener in 2008, the Ravens signed Willie Anderson to replace Adam Terry at right tackle. Anderson started 11 regular-season games and three playoff games for a team that advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
Just before the third preseason game in 2011, Baltimore struck a deal with Bryant McKinnie, which allowed the Ravens to move Michael Oher to right tackle and bench Jah Reid. McKinnie started every game in 2011 and was Baltimore's starting left tackle in the Super Bowl a season later.
Newsome was at it again on Friday by bringing in Howard, a massive and experienced blocker on the right side.
"We have the best personnel department; Ozzie and the fellows do a great job," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said before the Howard signing became official. "So anybody that they bring in I'm sure will help us in some way."
The Ravens had to do something to improve their offensive line, especially the right tackle spot. Baltimore couldn't keep three-year starter Rick Wagner in free agency. He became the second highest-paid right tackle with an average of $9.5 million per season ($47.5 million over five years).
At age 30, Howard doesn't have as much upside as Wagner. He does provide more value, however. The Ravens got Howard at nearly half the cost of Wagner, as the former is averaging $5.3 million per season (the NFL Network is reporting a three-year, $16 million deal).
Throughout the offseason and training camp, the Ravens have gone with James Hurst at right tackle. Hurst was one of the lowest-graded offensive tackles in 2014 and 2015 before showing some improvement last season. He's also the blocker who got pushed back into Joe Flacco in 2015, leading to the quarterback's season-ending knee surgery.
Howard is a more proven commodity because of his track record. He has started 39 games for the Raiders over the past three seasons.
It was important for the Ravens to add an experienced blocker. Beyond Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, none of the projected first-team offensive linemen have started more than 16 career games: left tackle Ronnie Stanley (12), left guard Alex Lewis (eight), center Ryan Jensen (nine) and Hurst (16).
In light of Flacco's back injury, the Ravens had to make this type of move now in order to bolster the protection around their franchise quarterback.