The Ravens experienced life without top cornerback Jimmy Smith last year and decided it was not something they wanted to go through again in the foreseeable future.
In one of their biggest moves this offseason, the Ravens agreed to terms Tuesday with Smith on a four-year, $48 million contract extension that includes $21 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL sources. The agreement, which essentially works out to a five-year deal because the 26-year-old is entering the final season on his rookie contract, averages $10.275 million annually in new money.
"I'm tremendously happy just to be a Raven for the next five years of my career, and I plan on getting rings," Smith said in a news conference at the team facility. "Now, I can just focus on getting healthy and getting back on the field. That's all my focus."
For the Ravens, the move locks up one of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL and stabilizes a secondary that struggled last season as a result of injuries and ineffectiveness. Smith's absence for the team's final 10 games — he had a Lisfranc foot sprain that required surgery in November — exposed the need for a shutdown-type corner.
Getting Smith's deal done now eliminates one potential key free agent next offseason. Starting guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, strong-side linebacker Courtney Upshaw, kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch all could the hit the market next year.
"[Owner Steve Bisciotti] is always committed to trying to retain as many of his good players as he can. He's been very much involved in this part of the negotiation as far as he wanted Jimmy to get the extension," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "It's an opportunity where we can have one of our good young players extend their career here in Baltimore."
If the going rate for free agent cornerbacks this offseason is any indication, the Ravens might have saved themselves millions of dollars by signing Smith now and not allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency next year. Byron Maxwell, one of the top free agent cornerbacks on the market this offseason, signed a six-year, $63 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles that included $25.5 million guaranteed.
As part of his deal, Smith got a $13 million signing bonus and a $1 million base salary for the 2015 season. He's due $7 million guaranteed in 2016, $8.5 million in 2017, $9 million in 2018 and $9.5 million in 2019. Smith now has a $3.6 million salary cap figure for the coming season, down from the $6.898 million he was originally due this year.
"For me, it was never truly about being the highest-paid corner," Smith said. "I knew I couldn't be that on this team and be here, just because the talent [is] spread around. You have to pay other people. I knew that and [I had] the injury. All those things came to mind, but it worked out.
"When you think of the Ravens, what do you think of? Defense. They put me back in here, meaning I'm almost a cornerstone of this defense. It means everything. Defense for the Baltimore Ravens has won two championships. It means everything."
The extension does come with significant risk for the Ravens given Smith's struggles to stay on the field. Since the Ravens picked him with the 27th overall pick in 2011, Smith has missed 17 of 64 regular-season games, which accounts for 26.5 percent of the team's games.
Smith is participating in the team's offseason workouts and said Tuesday that he's happy with the progress he's made following foot surgery, but was noncommittal about his level of activity during offseason practices.
The Ravens have been down this road before, when they signed pending free-agent tight end Dennis Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract in March 2014 after they were confident he had fully recovered from a fractured and dislocated right hip. However, he suffered the same injury last September against the Cleveland Browns and his career is in jeopardy.
Team officials felt confident that Smith will recover from his latest injury.
"I think his best football is still ahead of him," Newsome said. "If he doesn't get hurt in the Cincinnati game last year, I don't know where he could have ended up as a player, but he was definitely trending up."
In eight games before his injury last season, Smith allowed just 20 catches for 163 yards and no touchdowns and was targeted just 39 times, according to Pro Football Focus. He had one interception, eight passes defended and 28 total tackles, and was just starting to be mentioned with the other top cornerbacks in the NFL.
The great start came on the heels of a 2014 season in which Smith started all 16 games for the Ravens and emerged as the team's top cornerback.
"If I could just play the whole season … I think my best football is still [ahead]," Smith said. "I'm still learning the game, I'm still having fun with it. It's just exciting to see every year, I'm growing, and I feel like people see the same. For me, I feel sky's the limit. I always feel that way."
Smith arrived in Baltimore with questions about his character after he was cited for third-degree assault and underage drinking while at the University of Colorado. However, since entering the NFL, Smith has mostly stayed out of trouble. He was involved in a misdemeanor disorderly conduct case, stemming from an arrest at The Greene Turtle in Towson in July, but charges were dismissed by Baltimore County prosecutors.
Smith spoke Tuesday of how much he's matured while with the Ravens, crediting that growth to becoming the father of a young son last year. Now, he plans to reward the Ravens' faith.
"They drafted me, they trusted me," Smith said. "For this organization to stand behind me through everything that has happened even up to this point, it means a lot. They have my back. That's why I'm staying here."