The good news and well-deserved accolades continued to roll in for Baltimore Ravens star inside linebacker Roquan Smith on Thursday, January 12, 2022. After an incredibly strong final month of the regular season, he was announced as the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for December/January.
The two-time Second-Team All-Pro has only been with the team since Week 9 after being acquired via trade from the Chicago Bears but in that time, he made a seismic impact. So much so that he was voted to his first career Pro Bowl, named to the NFLPA All-Pro First-Team, dubbed team MVP, and earned a record-setting extension that made him the highest-paid player at his position in NFL history. Those last three accomplishments came earlier in the week.
Surprisingly, this marks the first time that Smith has earned a monthly recognition in his first five seasons in the league but after the incredible finish he has to the year, he was the clear and obvious choice.
In six games over the course of December and the first two Sundays in January, he recorded 66 total tackles, including 38 solos and six for loss, one sack, three pass deflections, and one interception. During that stretch, the Ravens gave up an average of just 14.7 points per game as he has been the catalyst for the unit’s impressive turnaround in the second half of the season as The Ringer’s Benjamin Solak broke down on his Youtube show ‘The Play Sheet’.
High Praise From Franchise Legend
Dating back to the time before he even entered the league, Smith had been compared to legendary Ravens linebacker and Hall of Fame inductee, Ray Lewis who was the face of the franchise for nearly two decades.
While he may not be as boisterous and bombastic as the 12-time Pro Bowler, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and two-time Superbowl champion when it comes to fiery pregame speeches, he looks like a carbon copy of him when he is on the field. The start of their respective careers mirrors each other’s and Lewis recently spoke very highly of Smith and elaborated on all the aspects of his game that he loves.
“That’s the way the linebacker position is played. He’s built to play the linebacker position,” Lewis told The Athletic. “That’s what he does very well: Find it, get to it and punish it. He’s somebody who I enjoy watching play, and his leadership. Although he’s not a rah-rah guy, his leadership is way on the other side of what people give him credit for. He challenges people to know it, to understand it, to feel it and to be accountable. That aligns with a great leader. I love Roquan Smith.”
Smith’s New Deal is Actually Quite the Steal
The details of the contract for the Ravens’ field general for the foreseeable have been released and while some may not see the value of it at first glance, the breakdown of how it’s structured should put them at ease in terms of being able to also keep star quarterback Lamar Jackson through at least the 2024 season.
According to Spotrac, his cap hits over the first two years of his new deal are just $9 million in 2023 and $13.5 million in 2024. In the event that Jackson and the Ravens can’t come to terms on a long-term deal during this or next offseason, both of those modest charges to the salary cap compared to the elite level of play they’ll be getting on the field will help them be able to still add more weapons for their quarterback while he plays on the franchise tag if needed.
They will also help them be able to sign and extend other players that are coming down the pipeline and could need their contracts addressed in the near future. Starting running back J.K. Dobbins will be playing on the last year of his rookie deal this fall and the team could look to try to lock him up this offseason if he goes on a dominant playoff run or during the 2023 regular season at some point.
There’s also the looming contract for Dobbins’ 2020 draftmate and Smith’s running mate in the middle of the defense, Patrick Queen. The third-year pro is coming off his best season to date and even though he was already ascending before Smith was inserted in the mix, his play has gone to another level now that they’re playing side by side. With two years left on his rookie deal assuming the team exercises his fifth-year option, the league’s best inside linebacker duo will reside in Charm City for at least two more years.
“I think we’ve just grown into each other,” Queen said in a press conference on January 11, 2022. “It’s not like really something that you can just look at and tell, it’s just a feel of being on the field and just playing better. [It is] raising your standard of play, raising his standard of play, raising each other’s standard of play. [It is] just going out there and playing a dominant game that you know you both can do. I think when you put two guys like that together, the sky’s the limit, and we’re just getting started.”
By the time Smith’s cap hits balloon to $27.5 million in 2026 and 2027, they’ll be much more manageable as the salary cap is expected to continually grow and they could always just extend him again and lower those figures.