The Baltimore Ravens have signed safety Marcus Williams to a five-year, $70 million contract, per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, adding one of the best safeties on the market to one of the NFL’s worst passing defenses in 2021.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter later reported that Williams’ deal with the Ravens includes $37 million of guaranteed money, as well as $31 million due in the next year.
The Ravens stood pat on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period before making a splash with the addition of Williams, Pro Football Focus‘s top free agent safety and eighth-best free agent overall.
The Ravens had been linked with multiple safeties heading into free agency, including the Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu and the Jets’ Marcus Maye, but they ultimately went with the former New Orleans Saint in Williams.
The 42nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Williams has started at free safety for the Saints for the past five seasons, developing into one of the NFL’s best playmakers at the position. He’ll get paid like it in Baltimore, with a $70 million total value is tied for third among all NFL safeties with Seattle Seahawks star Jamal Adams, per OverTheCap.
That may seem high for a player who has yet to earn a Pro Bowl or All-Pro selection in his career, but Williams is just reaching his prime at 25 years old. With 5,000 career snaps under his belt, and a 90.9 grade from PFF since 2019, he’ll only get better in Baltimore playing with new teammates Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.
Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic provided more context to the move, explaining that the Ravens have finally found the “true free safety” they’ve been looking for since Earl Thomas’ infamous departure from Baltimore.
Analysts Praise Signing
The Williams signing drew an overwhelmingly positive reception, with ESPN’s Mina Kimes among the many analysts to praise the Ravens for the deal.
Peter Schrager of Fox Sports called Williams “a great fit for the Ravens,” and ESPN’s Matt Bowen agreed, highlighting the former Utah Ute’s fit in Baltimore’s defense.
The Ravens are also garnering praise for locking Williams down at a very affordable rate, owing him an average of $14 million per year through the 2026 season. That’s the seventh-highest average annual value now, a reasonable ranking for a top-10 safety like Williams, but it could be a steal in a few years if he develops into a superstar at the position.
Williams Joins Loaded Secondary in Baltimore
Williams will have ample opportunity to grow in Baltimore playing alongside two All-Pro cornerbacks in Humphrey and Peters, as well as one of the NFL’s most underrated strong safeties in Chuck Clark.
The release of Tavon Young on March 9 does leave a hole at slot corner in Baltimore, though that could be filled by either Humphrey or 2021 third-rounder Brandon Stephens. Humphrey has switched into the slot in previous seasons when Young was injured, and Stephens played cornerback in college before starting 11 games at safety during his rookie season in Baltimore.
The Ravens could even take the opportunity of having a rangy free safety in Williams to use Humphrey and Stephens as matchup weapons instead of locking them into specific positions. Their versatility allows them to matchup with receivers on the outside and in the slot, as well as some of the league’s top tight ends who often function as receivers themselves.
Baltimore could also target a cornerback in the 2022 NFL draft, with both Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Derek Stingley Jr. projected to the Ravens in recent mock drafts.