Looking for an opportunity to join a winning team after missing almost the entire 2012 season, inside linebacker Daryl Smith had to wait until early June last year before he signed a one-year contract with the Ravens worth $2.125 million.
Smith drastically outperformed that deal in 2013, leading the Ravens in tackles and playing all but two defensive snaps. Smith got his reward Friday when he reached an agreement on a four-year contract worth up to $16.1 million contract, according to league sources.
The Ravens later confirmed the move.
"I'm super excited," Smith said in a telephone interview. "I'm happy it's over with and I'm coming back here. I really didn't really want to move around again. I love the city of Baltimore, my family loves it. We love the organization, first-class in everything they do. It's hard to turn down. I didn't want to leave there."
The Ravens had also talked with former Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard -- who signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the Tennessee Titans -- according to a source. However, the Ravens were intent on holding onto Smith.
"There are a lot of smiles around the building today after we got a commitment from Daryl Smith to stay a Raven," general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. "He fills a need for us at a high level. Just look at his production last season, plus he gave us leadership and maturity. He's tough, he's consistent, he's intelligent, and he brings his lunch pail to work every day."
Smith will become the fourth Ravens unrestricted free agent to be re-signed since the market opened Tuesday, joining left tackle Eugene Monroe, wide receiver-kick returner Jacoby Jones and safety-special teams ace Jeromy Miles.
Already thin at inside linebacker after the release of Jameel McClain, who started 10 games last year on the weak side, the Ravens had prioritized re-signing Smith. However, they had made little progress in the negotiations until recently, when it became clear that bringing back Smith remained their best option on a high-priced and otherwise thinned-out market.
Smith, who's celebrating his 32nd birthday Friday, will start at middle linebacker, likely alongside second-year player Arthur Brown, who figures to be elevated to replace McClain at weak-side inside linebacker. The team will also bring back reserves Albert McClellan and Josh Bynes and they also could add depth at inside linebacker in May's draft.
But getting back Smith was a huge step. Starting all 16 games in the same position that Ray Lewis occupied for the Ravens for the previous 17 seasons, Smith finished first on the team in tackles (125), third in sacks (five), tied for second in interceptions (three), second in passes defended (19) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two).
He also called the defensive signals in the huddle and emerged as a leader on the field and in the locker room.
Now, Smith is hoping the Ravens can make a run at a championship following an 8-8 season where they missed the playoffs.
"Most definitely, we did some good things last year," Smith said. "We didn't do enough. We want to get that trophy."
The 2004 second-round pick out of Georgia Tech has played 10 years in the NFL – nine with the Jacksonville Jaguars - and has long been regarded as one of the more underrated players in the game.
Aside from the 2012 season when he played in just two games for the Jaguars because of a groin injury, Smith has also been remarkably durable. He missed only four total games in his first eight years in the league.