The Ravens and cornerback Jimmy Smith have reached agreement on a 4-year, $48 million contract extension. (Aaron Wilson/Baltimore Sun)
The four-year, $48 million contract extension the Ravens gave Jimmy Smith on Tuesday certainly comes with major risk. Smith, 26, has missed 17 regular season games over the past four seasons, which amounts to 26.5 percent of the Ravens' games.
That's significant. Smith will also have to prove that he can find his previous form after he suffered a foot injury in late October that ultimately required surgery and ended his season.
It was only natural after the deal to think back to the last time the Ravens signed a player coming off a major injury to a contract extension. Tight end Dennis Pitta signed a four-year, $32.5 million deal in February 2014 after playing in just four games the previous season following his return from a fractured and dislocated hip. Pitta suffered the same injury in 2014 and now his career is in jeopardy.
Smith's injury is different, so it's not really a fair comparison. All contract extensions carry risk for teams, but the belief here is it would have been far riskier for the Ravens to allow Smith to play out the final year of his rookie contract and hit free agency.
In this pass-happy NFL where teams need at least three good cornerbacks and a couple of more serviceable ones, it's just not smart to let young and talented defensive backs walk out the door.
With the league-wide demand for corners, you can almost guarantee that Smith, assuming he stays relatively healthy, would have been able to name his price next offseason, and there would have been little the Ravens could do to match.
Consider the following deals signed by the top free agent cornerbacks this offseason: Darrelle Revis got a five-year, $70 million deal, including $39 million guaranteed, to return to the New York Jets. Byron Maxwell got a six-year, $63 million pact with $25 million guaranteed to join the Philadelphia Eagles. The San Diego Chargers retained Brandon Flowers for four years, $36.4 million with $20.5 million guaranteed. In December, the Denver Broncos re-signed Chris Harris to a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $24 million in guaranteed money.
Smith's deal includes $21 million in guaranteed cash. If -– and we're back to this again -– Smith stays healthy, the deal should work out nicely for the Ravens.
By now, the Ravens' 2015 schedule has been thoroughly discussed and dissected. It probably is the most difficult one of John Harbaugh's tenure. The obvious challenges are the five road games through the first seven weeks, the four games on the West Coast during that span and the final four games against winning teams last season.
But here are a couple of other challenges for the Ravens that haven't been discussed as much:
Playing Thursday night games are tough enough. Playing them on the road against your most intense rival -– as will be the case when the Ravens face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Oct. 1 -- is about as challenging as it gets.
Before traveling to Heinz Field, the Ravens will have only two days to prepare for the Steelers following a Sunday home game against the Cincinnati Bengals, another division rival. The Steelers had to come to Baltimore last season for a Thursday night game and they responded with one of their worst performances of the season, so they'll hardly feel sorry for the Ravens.
Speaking of short weeks, the Ravens will have another one following their Monday night game at Cleveland on Nov. 30. And making it even shorter is the fact that their next game on Dec. 6 is also on the road versus the Miami Dolphins. Road games following Monday night games are brutal for teams.
And of course, if the Ravens had their preference, it would be to face Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning late in the season when he might be banged up and affected by the elements. That shouldn't be the case for the Sept. 13 opener.
They also would have loved to avoid Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell for at least one of the two games between the teams. Bell will be suspended for the season's first three games for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. The Ravens and Steelers play in Week 4, a game that might feature Bell's 2015 debut.
But before you complain too much about the Ravens' slate, consider this regular-season closing stretch on the Steelers' schedule: at Seattle (Week 12), vs. Indianapolis (Week 13), at Cincinnati (Week 14), vs. Denver (Week 15), at Ravens (Week 16) and at Cleveland (Week 17). Ouch.
In case you missed it, free agent wide receiver Greg Jennings reportedly agreed to a two-year deal with the Dolphins. The Ravens had some interest in Jennings, but like with the rest of the free-agent wide receiver class, their interest appeared to be tepid at best.
Count me among those who wasn't buying the talk from team officials about not needing a veteran wide receiver to replace Torrey Smith. I was wrong. The Ravens apparently feel that way because there's really nobody left on the market now who would make much sense.
The remaining free agent wide receivers include Hakeem Nicks, Reggie Wayne, Mike Williams and Lance Moore. If it wasn't clear a couple of weeks ago, it certainly is now. If the Ravens are going to make a meaningful wide receiver addition, it will be in the draft.