Sam Koch, a ‘revolutionary’ punter and the Ravens’ longest-tenured player, retires after 16 seasons

Sam Koch, a ‘revolutionary’ punter and the Ravens’ longest-tenured player, retires after 16 seasons

Sam Koch, the longest-tenured player in Ravens history and a punter coach John Harbaugh hailed as “revolutionary,” announced his retirement from the NFL on Thursday.

Koch, 39, will join the Ravens’ coaching staff as a special teams consultant and work with rookie punter Jordan Stout, a fourth-round pick in last month’s NFL draft.

Koch appeared in a franchise-record 256 regular-season games over his 16 seasons in Baltimore, including a record 239 in a row from 2006 to 2020. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the only active player who’s been with a team for longer, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

A Pro Bowl selection and All-Pro honoree in 2005, Koch had an outsize impact on the Ravens’ special teams excellence and punting across the sport. Former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg called Koch the “best holder in the history of football” and credited him in part with the success of Ravens kickers Matt Stover and Justin Tucker, the NFL’s all-time leader in field-goal accuracy.

Koch’s innovative approach at the position also expanded the range of kicks in a punter’s arsenal. Harbaugh said Thursday that when Koch’s punting career started, “all anybody ever did was punt it straight.” About a decade ago, Koch and the Ravens started experimenting with punts that would hook and knuckle and roll. Over the years, other punters would message Koch over social media, asking for tips on his “Koch Hook.”

“When you change something forever, to me, that’s kind of a revolutionary-type thing,” Harbaugh said. “And that’s the mark of greatness, right there.”

Koch retires as the Ravens’ all-time leader in punts (1,168), punt yardage (52,868), career gross average (45.3 yards per punt), career net average (39.7 yards) and punts inside the 20-yard line (453). His 1,168 career punts are the most by a punter with a single team in NFL history. In Super Bowl XLVII, Koch’s time-consuming end-zone scramble against the San Francisco 49ers, which led to an intentional safety, and subsequent 61-yard free kick helped secure the Ravens’ second NFL title.

“As Ray Lewis would always put it, leave your legacy,” Koch said. “I always remembered that, and I always tried to find a way that I could leave a legacy. I’m honored to say I left a legacy.”

Koch’s retirement comes a year after the Ravens parted ways with long snapper Morgan Cox, another member of the “The Wolfpack,” the Ravens’ fine-tuned field-goal-kicking battery. It also comes less than three weeks after Stout’s selection. Koch said Harbaugh and general manager Eric DeCosta called him the weekend of the draft to inform him that they could draft another punter. It was a possibility he’d prepared for; Koch was set to count $2.1 million against the salary cap in the final year of his contract.

On April 30, the Ravens drafted Stout No. 130 overall, the highest a punter has been taken since 2019. “At that point, I think I knew,” Koch said in an emotional news conference. “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.”

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Teammates like defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, guard Marshal Yanda and quarterback Lamar Jackson saluted Koch in his retirement tribute video. Others, like Tucker and Cox, came to Friday’s news conference, where Koch wore a black hat, pulled tight over his eyes to cover the emotions that bubbled to the surface.

“I am very grateful they took a chance on this unknown punter from the University of Nebraska,” he said early in his prepared remarks, before stopping to compose himself.

Koch recalled the highs and lows of his career: his gratitude to the Ravens for drafting him in the sixth round out of Nebraska, the season when he was almost cut, how Harbaugh once told him he was just a “preseason practice punter,” his delight in throwing the ball on fake punts (he went 7-for-8 for 82 yards over his career), his Super Bowl triumph. Koch thanked his family, teammates, coaches and Ravens officials for making his career possible.

“Sam is the ultimate example of what it means to be a professional,” Tucker, who had Koch as his holder on all but one of his 326 field goals, said in a release. “The great memories we created together start with him and his work ethic, his abilities and his attention to detail. I owe much of my success over the last 10 years to Sam, and many Ravens’ victories over the last 16 years are very much because of Sam’s efforts. He is an outstanding teammate and leader in our locker room, and like many great Ravens before him, he has been essential to defining our culture as a team.”

“Sam has revolutionized the game of football,” special teams coach Randy Brown, who worked closely with Koch, said in the release. “As a whole, every punter in the NFL owes Sam Koch a debt of gratitude for being the pioneer of change on how punting is executed in this league.”

DeCosta, teary-eyed through much of Koch’s news conference, said the “worst part” of taking over as general manager for Ozzie Newsome was saying goodbye to players like Koch.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with Ozzie for a long time picking players, and you never really go into it thinking that one of your best draft picks ever is going to be a punter,” DeCosta said. “Like, nobody says that. But in this case, it’s true.”

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