Roquan Smith’s stay with the Baltimore Ravens won’t be a short one, even though the standout linebacker is set to be a free agent in 2023. Smith was playing in the last year of his rookie deal with the Chicago Bears when the Ravens came calling on Monday, October 31 and traded second and fifth-round draft picks, along with A.J. Klein, for the 25-year-old.
Smith’s contract and lack of an agent, an absence he shares with Ravens’ franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, appeared to put a ticking clock on this deal. Yet two NFL writers are confident Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has made this trade with a long-term view in mind.
DeCosta will also be counting on Smith’s presence to help make amends for a previous trade involving a defensive star that went wrong for the Ravens.
Smith to Be a Raven for the Long Haul
DeCosta and the Ravens traditionally place a high value on draft picks, one reason why Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic believes trading “a second and a fifth rounder certainly suggests that they don’t plan on Smith being just a rental.”
Zrebiec also thinks Smith will be a Raven beyond this season because “it’s hardly a lock” DeCosta will exercise Patrick Queen’s fifth-year option. Queen being allowed to move on would leave a void at the heart of Baltimore’s inside linebacker rotation, particularly given how well the largely disappointing 28th-overall pick in 2020 is playing this season:
Queen’s status may not be as big a concern as negotiating directly with Smith, sans an agent. It’s the same situation DeCosta faces in contract talks with Jackson, but Zrebiec thinks “it would be surprising if DeCosta hasn’t already broached the subject with Smith.”
Zrebiec’s view is shared by ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, who wrote “Smith looks like a steal for a second- and fifth-round pick, and the Ravens wouldn’t have made this deal unless they were extremely confident they would sign him to an extension (and not acquire him as a three-month rental).”
The Ravens surely are optimistic about the chances of keeping a talent with Smith’s upside for the long haul. He’s still got his prime years ahead of him, despite already being a highly productive player, a combination that makes Smith a “steal.”
DeCosta Looking to Avoid Ngakoue Repeat
The Ravens got good value by acquiring Smith, even with a second-round pick as part of the trade package. This deal looks better still when you add in the cheap cost for the Ravens this season, just $575,000 in salary, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
DeCosta will hope Smith’s performances on the field only add to the sense the Ravens scored a bargain at the Bears’ expense. If not, the Ravens could be looking at another Yannick Ngakoue-type mishap.
DeCosta sent a pair of draft picks to acquire the edge-rusher from the Minnesota Vikings in 2020. It proved a waste of draft capital when Ngakoue played in just nine games for the Ravens before joining the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency.
There’s good reason to believe Smith will prove a greater success. He’s one of the premium players at his position in the game, evidenced by his NFL-leading 83 tackles through eight games.
Tackles can often be a misleading stat, especially if many are made only after positive gains by an offense. Fortunately the Ravens needn’t worry, because a good proportion of Smith’s tackles count as “stops,” according to PFF BAL Ravens, meaning negative plays for offenses:
Smith is able to make so many defensive stops thanks to his speed and versatility. Those are qualities ESPN analyst Matt Bowen believes will instantly bolster the Ravens’ front seven:
A middle linebacker with Smith’s sideline-to-sideline agility and aggressive, downhill instincts can stay on the field for all three downs. That’s invaluable for any defense going against today’s spread-out, pass-heavy offenses.
It’s certainly valuable enough for the Ravens to forego the potential third-round compensatory pick they could get if Smith moves on in 2023. A proven playmaker capable of wrecking every phase of an offense will surely improve coordinator Mike Macdonald’s inconsistent defense.
A boost is needed for a unit ranked 20th in points and 24th in yards. Smith’s chances of providing that boost are strengthened by the timing of the deal and the Ravens’ schedule, per Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun:
Putting Smith’s established skills into a group already featuring Queen, Odafe Oweh, Justin Houston, Jason Pierre-Paul, Tyus Bowser and rookie David Ojabo, could give the Ravens the best set of linebackers in the league.