Terrance West Jersey

The story of Baltimore native and Towson University star Terrance West winning the starting running back job for his hometown Ravens was a heartwarming one, but there might not be a happy ending. After a season in which West went from Week 1 starter to perpetual fourth-string bench-warmer, West is set to be a free agent and seems to recognize that his NFL future likely lies elsewhere.

As he cleaned out his locker at the team’s Owings Mills, Md., complex Jan. 1 after the team’s stunning, season-ending loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, West acknowledged that it “hurt” the way his role this season was essentially reduced to that of a practice squad player.

West, who turns 27 this month, won an underwhelming competition for the starting job during the preseason. But the emergence of Alex Collins — signed to the Ravens’ practice squad after he was among the Seattle Seahawks’ final cuts — completely changed the dynamic of the Ravens’ backfield.

Collins was promoted to the 53-man roster before Week 2 and went on to rush for a team-high 973 yards. Running back Buck Allen (153 carries for 591 yards and 46 receptions for 250 yards) also made key contributions, and once Danny Woodhead returned from injured reserve in November, West was essentially the fourth-string back.

West did not play a snap after Week 5 against the Oakland Raiders. He missed four straight games with a calf injury, and then was a healthy game-day inactive in six of the final seven games. In the only game in which he was in uniform during the final half of the season, West did not play at all.

“It was very disappointing,” West said, “because I worked hard all offseason, did a lot of work to get back healthy, and to not play, it hurt.” But, West added, “I got better, I’m in a positive attitude and I’m ready to get back to work.”

West, a third-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2014, arrived in Baltimore in 2015 after a tumultuous two-year start to his NFL career that included being benched and traded by the Browns to the Tennessee Titans, then benched and released.

He led the Ravens in rushing last season with 774 yards on 193 carries and entered this season as the Ravens’ lead back.

But after carrying 19 times for 80 yards during the season-opening win against the Bengals, West had just 20 carries the rest of the year. Collins burst onto the scene, averaging more than 8 yards a carry during his first three games as a Raven, which showed his big-play potential and drastically cut into West’s playing time.

West’s two carries against Oakland in Week 5 proved to be his last of the season. He finished with 39 carries for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Collins figures to return as the starter, and Allen, Woodhead and Kenneth Dixon, who missed this entire season with an injury and suspension, all are under contract as well. West will be a free agent in March, and there doesn’t appear to be a spot for him in this backfield.

“I don’t know,” West said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

When asked if he’d like to return to Baltimore, West seemed to choose his words carefully.

“I’d love to play football again,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I just want to play football.

“We just got to take advantage of this opportunity we got coming up next year, no matter where we are.”

The Buccaneers could be looking to add a running back.

Tampa Bay is set to meet with veteran Terrance West on Saturday, according to a report from the NFL Network. The visit comes after Buccaneers running back Charles Sims injured his knee in the second preseason game and is out for the season.

West signed a one-year contract with the Saints in June but was released earlier this week.

West rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns in five games with the Ravens last season. He suffered a calf injury in an Oct. 8 game against the Raiders and was replaced by Alex Collins, who took over as Baltimore’s lead back for the rest of 2017.

West’s best season came with the Ravens in 2016, when he rushed for 774 yards and five touchdowns. He was selected in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Browns and has also spent time with the Titans during his four-year career.