Ravens Are ‘Definitely Interested’ in Reunion With All-Pro Pass Rusher: Report

Ravens Za'Darius Smith

Getty Former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith celebrates a sack in 2016.

While the Baltimore Ravens did miss out on a reunion with center Ryan Jensen, they might be able to reunite with another former player: outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith.

Smith was released by the Green Bay Packers on March 14, per Heavy’s Jordan Wilson, shortly before the start of the league’s legal tampering period, and it’s possible he could be headed back to Baltimore, where his NFL career began.

Rumors of a potential reunion began flying even before Smith was officially cut, with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler suggesting a return to Baltimore for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Smith has been a popular potential signing for the Ravens once he surfaced as a potential cap casualty for the Green Bay Packers

Those rumors were then substantiated by multiple reports, including one from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, who said that the Ravens were one of the teams “already pursuing” Smith.

Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic also confirmed the Ravens’ interest, indicating that they have been preparing to go after Smith in free agency if he became available.

Smith would be an instant upgrade to a Ravens defense that only recorded 34 sacks in 2021, with just three players getting above 2.0 sacks. Only one – 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh – is currently set to start for the Ravens at the beginning of the 2022 season, with Tyus Bowser recovering from a torn Achilles and Justin Houston hitting free agency. 

After leaving Baltimore to sign a four-year, $66 million contract with the Packers in 2019, Smith immediately put up a Pro Bowl season with a career-high 13.5 official sacks and a league-leading 105 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus. He followed that up with another 12.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 2020, earning his first career All-Pro nod as well as his second Pro Bowl appearance.

Price Remains an Issue

But the market for edge rushers could price Smith out of Baltimore’s reach.

Emmanuel Ogbah turned down multiple teams, including the Ravens, to re-sign with the Miami Dolphins for more than $16 million per year, but unlike Smith, he’s never finished a season with double-digit sacks in his six-year career.

That could drive Smith’s desired average annual value to $18 million, a reasonable raise from his last AAV of $16.5 million, according to OverTheCap. But the Ravens only have $15.6 million in available cap space at the moment and multiple holes to fill.

A few cuts and restructures could free up enough room to accommodate Smith, especially if his deal is slightly backloaded. Ogbah, for example, has just a $7.6 million cap hit in 2022, per OTC, though his next three seasons are over $18.5 million each. With the Ravens anticipating increased cap hits for star quarterback Lamar Jackson in future years, they may not want to delay so much money to future seasons.

Perhaps Smith might take a discount to return to Baltimore – after all, the Ravens were the team that first drafted him in 2014 – but a team like the Indianapolis Colts, with plenty of cap space and a need on the edge, could make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Bowser ‘Making Progress’ in Recovery

Smith would start at outside linebacker opposite Oweh in Baltimore, taking the place of Bowser until he comes back from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered during the last game of the season.

Bowser updated fans on his recovery on March 13, tweeting that he was “making progress.”

While a Cam Akers-esque recovery would have Bowser ready for Week 1 of the regular season, it’s more likely he’ll make a midseason return to the field. Smith can hold down the fort until then, at which point both players’ versatility will come into full effect. Smith can play defensive end and outside linebacker in the Ravens’ 3-4 scheme and rush the passer from inside and outside alignments. Bowser can line up at outside linebacker and edge pass rusher while also hanging with opposing tight ends and running backs in coverage.

That kind of versatility has always been prized in Baltimore, and the chance to unlock it further with the addition of Smith might be worth a hefty contract to the Ravens.

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