OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before a packed team auditorium, Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch announced his retirement Thursday during a tear-filled press conference, which ended the career of the longest-tenured player in franchise history.
Koch, 39, will remain with the Ravens as a special teams consultant this season and mentor Penn State punter Jordan Stout, who was drafted by Baltimore in the fourth round 19 days ago.
A 16-year veteran, Koch played in a team-record 256 games in Baltimore, 27 more than any other Ravens player. The only active player with longer current service with his team is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Koch said he has no doubts that he can still punt in the league but acknowledged he is at peace with his decision. He knew his run was coming to an end on before the start of the third day of the draft, when Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh notified him that the team could draft a punter.
“I remember saying to them: This is a business decision and you guys have to do what you think is best for the Ravens,” Koch said. “So, they made that decision, and at that point, I think I knew my time was over and it’s OK. I’m very excited for my next chapter in life and all I can do is be very appreciative of the way they handled it.”
Koch broke down several times while reading his nine-page speech, talking about how he beat the odds as a walk-on at Nebraska and made the NFL despite not being invited at the NFL combine.
“I swear I practiced this a lot at home,” Koch said while wiping tears from his eyes. “Not once did it end up like this.”
With Koch’s retirement, the Ravens freed up $2.1 million in much-needed salary-cap space, which could be used to sign a wide receiver or pass-rusher. Baltimore goes from having a punter with the NFL’s third-highest cap figure ($3.175 million) to the 28th-highest one ($879,459), which is important for a Ravens team that has $7 million in cap room.
Koch, the 203rd player selected in the 2006 draft, is one of two active players from that draft class (tight end Marcedes Lewis is the other). His impact on the game goes beyond his one Pro Bowl season (2015).
Considered an innovator in punting circles, Koch created an assortment of kicks that caused problems for returners to make a clean catch. He had a hook punt that dropped in the shape of an “S” and a knuckleballer that was even harder to field. Koch sometimes torqued his body such that it looked like he was punting to the right side of the field when he was actually angling the punt to the left. There are college punters who refer to certain trick punts as “Koch hooks.”
As the Ravens’ punter for 16 of the team’s 26 years of existence, Koch holds nearly every punting record for the franchise: total punts (1,168), gross average (45.3) and punts inside the 20-yard line (450). The Ravens’ 11 longest punts have all come from Koch’s right leg.
“Sam changed punting,” Harbaugh said. “A lot of people don’t know it, but all the punters know it and all the punting coaches know it. When you change something forever, to me that’s a revolutionary-type thing. That’s the mark of greatness.”
The Ravens have often considered Koch their secret weapon for the many ways he has helped Baltimore win. Koch has been referred to as “the best holder in the history of football,” according to former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg. He has set up kicks for three Pro Bowl kickers: Matt Stover, Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker, who is the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history.
Koch’s most unusual badge of honor is that he’s the Ravens’ all-time leader in passer rating. He has completed 7 of 8 passes on fake punts for 82 yards and a rating of 109.4. Teammates regarded Koch as one of the best athletes on the team, and he showed his agility when he scored a seven-yard touchdown off a fake field goal in 2012 against the Raiders.
“You never really go into this thinking one of your best draft picks ever is going to be a punter,” DeCosta said. “Nobody says that. But in this case, it’s true.”
Perhaps the biggest highlight of Koch’s career came in Super Bowl XLVII, when he recorded one of the most important safeties ever. With Baltimore holding a 34-29 lead with 12 seconds remaining, Koch took the snap in the end zone and ran off eight seconds before going out of bounds, which gave the San Francisco 49ers one play to try to win the game.
With Koch retiring and cornerback Jimmy Smith unsigned, the only two players from that 2012 Super Bowl-champion team currently under contract is Tucker and linebacker Josh Bynes. Koch will always be remembered for how he pushed others around him to strive for perfection. When they succeeded, he delivered his catchphrase: “Way to do your job.”
“Sam’s contributions are not just as a specialist or a role player but as a leader and as somebody who should absolutely be looked to as an example of what it looks to be a Raven,” Tucker said. “You heard Sam talk about getting the opportunity to play with some of the great Ravens that have been. He’s absolutely in that conversation. His career makes him a lock for the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.”
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