And Thursday, they made sure their most accomplished cover man will stay in a Ravens uniform for a long time.
Fulfilling one of their offseason priorities, the Ravens reached agreement on a six-year, $50 million deal with Lardarius Webb, who emerged as a shutdown cornerback during the team’s run to the AFC championship game last season.
Webb, 26, will be in Baltimore next week to take a physical and sign the contract, which includes a $10 million signing bonus and $20 million guaranteed. The deal is essentially a five-year extension in addition to the one season Webb still has left on his rookie deal.
“We have a good history of completing second contracts for targeted players we want to keep for the long haul,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We did that recently with Jameel McClain, just like we did with Haloti [Ngata], [Terrell Suggs], [Jarret Johnson], Marshal [Yanda] — and many more through the years. Lardarius is an important player for the Ravens, and we’re very happy he will be with us for a long time.”
Webb, a third-round pick in 2009, had been a restricted free agent. The Ravens placed a first-round tender on him earlier this offseason, which would have guaranteed him a salary of $2.74 million in 2012. However, they also were at risk of having another team jump in and sign Webb to a long-term deal while surrendering their first-round draft pick to the Ravens.
The Ravens would have been given an opportunity to match the contract in that case, but that’s now a moot point as several weeks of negotiation with Webb’s representatives resulted in a new deal.
"Dreams do come true. I’m still in disbelief. I can’t believe it," Webb said in an interview with 105.7 The Fan on Thursday night. "I know I’ve earned it, I know I’ve played good ball. But I still can’t believe it."
“The reason why we want to get the long-term deals done with those players is because we like them and we want them to be in Baltimore for a long time,” Newsome said Wednesday at the organization’s annual draft luncheon. “They have been very helpful for us to get us to this point, and they are going to be helpful for us to take the next step.”
Webb, Williams, 27, and rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, 23, were instrumental in a defense that allowed 196.3 passing yards per game last year — the fourth lowest total in the NFL — and 11 passing touchdowns, the fewest in the league.
Webb stood out from the rest of the group in his first full season as a starter. He led the Ravens and the AFC North with five interceptions and 20 passes defended during the regular season. He also had 68 total tackles, one sack and one forced fumble, and he was the only player in the NFL to have both a punt return touchdown and an interception return touchdown.
According to Pro Football Focus, an NFL statistics and analysis website, Webb did not allow a touchdown pass all season, and quarterbacks had a rating of just 55.6 when throwing in his direction. The site also graded Webb as the fourth best cornerback in the NFL, and the second best in coverage, behind only New York Jets perennial Pro Bowl performer Darrelle Revis.
Webb was at his best in the playoffs, making three interceptions in two games. In the Ravens’ divisional round playoff victory over the Houston Texans, Webb tied a postseason franchise record with two interceptions to go along with a career-high four passes defended and four solo tackles.
Drafted with the 88th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Nicholls State, Webb started four games as a rookie but his promising freshman campaign was cut short by a season-ending knee injury.
He rebounded to play in 15 games in 2010 before establishing himself this past season as the Ravens’ top cornerback.
"As much as I looked up to Ed Reed growing up, now I get to be a face of the organization. I’m proud to be that guy," Webb said in his radio interview. "Ozzie gave me a chance. He got me in the third round. I don’t know if people believed or not. I know me and the organization believed what I can be ... I’m just proud to be a Raven."