One down, one to go. That’s what the Baltimore Ravens will hope they’ve accomplished after agreeing a “huge,” market-altering contract with one of their top two free agents on Tuesday, January 10.
Roquan Smith will be a Raven for the long haul after agreeing a historic deal with the team that traded for him back in November. The news was confirmed by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
Once the final touches are put on this deal, only Lamar Jackson’s future will be the main issue on general manager Eric DeCosta’s to-do list.
Ravens Right to Pay Up for Cornerstone Player
The Ravens knew what they were getting when they traded A.J. Klein and two draft picks to the Chicago Bears for Smith. He’s lived up to the billing as a force multiplier on a Baltimore defense experiencing an uncomfortable but necessary transition this season.
Mike Macdonald replacing Don ‘Wink’ Martindale as coordinator last offseason meant a scheme less reliant on the blitz. What Macdonald’s system required was relentless pressure by the front four with a do-all linebacker able to read and react to anything behind those pass-rushers.
Smith has answered the call and transformed Baltimore’s defense in the process, per NFL reporter Dov Kleiman:
That kind or turnaround is worth paying big money to a 25-year-old with his prime years still ahead of him. The Ravens have secured the future of their star on defense. Now it’s up to DeCosta to arrange something similar for the standout presence on the other side of the ball.
Ravens Can Still Afford QB1 After This Outlay
Making Smith the highest-paid linebacker in league history won’t preclude the Ravens keeping Jackson in the fold. Not when the terms have been structured in a “reasonable” way, according to Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus:
Those terms increase the likelihood Jackson gets hit with the franchise tag to keep him around for the short term at least. That’s what David Helman of Fox Sports believes will happen, and he compared it to the Dallas Cowboys tagging Dak Prescott two years running:
Using two tags is an option for the Ravens and would allow Jackson to cash in when he’s 28 and approaching his peak. Following a two-year plan would also give the Ravens ample time to scout and recruit alternatives to their dual-threat star at football’s most important position.
Those are good reasons to risk the tag and forego any long-term paying contract Jackson more guaranteed cash than the $230 million the Cleveland Browns handed to Deshaun Watson.
The cost of a tag is projected by Over The Cap to be $32,445,000 for this year, a figure that would absorb a significant chunk of Baltimore’s anticipated $48,807,906 worth of salary cap space. It’s a number set before Smith’s deal is officially ratified, but there’s good reason to believe it won’t impact Jackson’s contract situation.
If anything, Smith coming to terms is a good omen the Ravens can eventually strike an agreement with their QB1. Like Jackson, Smith represents himself, something that could be tricky for DeCosta, but in Smith’s case, the Ravens appear to have found a way to work around any such issues.