The Ravens and inside linebacker Roquan Smith have agreed to a contract extension, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told The Baltimore Sun.
According to NFL Network, the record-breaking contract is a five-year, $100 million extension, which makes Smith the highest-paid off-ball linebacker in league history and includes $60 million in total guarantees. Smith represented himself in negotiations.
With the deal, the Ravens took care of what was expected to be their second biggest piece of offseason business. With Smith, 25, locked up as a defensive centerpiece, general manager Eric DeCosta will be in better position to use the franchise tag to keep quarterback Lamar Jackson in Baltimore if Jackson does not agree to an extension.
The Ravens traded for Smith, a two-time All-Pro who was the eighth overall pick by the Chicago Bears in 2018, in late October, hoping he would be the final piece to make their defense elite. If anything, he has exceeded expectations, both as a playmaker and as a mood lifter in the locker room. He recently made his first Pro Bowl.
Smith’s $100 million deal is the second largest in team history behind the six-year, $120.6 million extension quarterback Joe Flacco signed after he won Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors in 2012 that made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley signed for five years, $98.75 million and cornerback Marlon Humphrey for five years, $97.5 million.
The Colts’ Shaquille Leonard was previously the highest-paid player at Smith’s position. The five-year, $98.25 million contract extension he signed in August 2021 pays him an average salary of $19.7 million and included $52.5 million in guarantees, according to Over the Cap.
DeCosta followed the same formula he did with cornerback Marcus Peters in 2019, making a splashy trade to improve his defense at midseason without any guarantee Smith would stick around past this year. As with Peters, the Ravens’ culture proved ideal for Smith, and he signed months before he would have hit the open market.
“It’s been everything I wanted and more,” Smith said last month when asked if Baltimore had lived up to his expectations.
Smith was already considered one of the league’s top defensive playmakers based on his 4 1/2 seasons in Chicago, during which he recorded 607 tackles, 47 tackles for loss, 16 1/2 sacks and seven interceptions. He has missed just four games in his career.
Smith staged a hold-in during Chicago’s training camp amid stalled contract negotiations, and he publicly demanded a trade after his extension talks with the Bears stalled, saying the team had refused to negotiate in good faith. But he nonetheless started the season as one of Chicago’s team captains and led the league in tackles at the time he was dealt to Baltimore for second- and fifth-round picks and linebacker A.J. Klein.
Smith said he was initially “shocked” by the trade but eager to help the Ravens “get over the hump” as Super Bowl contenders. He quickly made good on his promise.
Statistics tell one side of the story. The Ravens’ defense ranked 15th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA before Smith arrived and has vaulted to third with him patrolling the middle over the past nine games. In his nine games with the Ravens, Smith has earned an 84.7 grade from Pro Football Focus, up from 60.1 over his eight games this season with the Bears.
As for his impact on teammates, Ravens coach John Harbaugh addressed it Monday: “He has been fantastic that way. He’s all about it. He doesn’t worry about what people think; he doesn’t care. He wants to do the things that are required to be a great player and to be a great unit and then to impact your team. That’s what he’s all about — 100% — [and] that’s what I love about him. He’s one of the top guys I’ve ever seen that way, and I think that does always impact everybody as a leader, for sure. I want all of our guys to lead that way.”
Teammates and coaches have described Smith as an “old soul” who drops folksy sayings, chats them up about everything from fishing to world geography and never stops shouting out the patterns he observes on the field.
He and the Ravens’ 2020 first-round pick, Patrick Queen, immediately formed one of the most productive linebacker duos in the league.
Baltimore Ravens Insider
“Just trusting each other,” Queen said recently when asked why the partnership has worked so well. “Just having the utmost trust and comfort with each other and just playing the calls that they’re giving us. I think we both know how great we can be, and I think that’s pushing us to be better than what we’ve been playing.”
The Ravens’ financial commitment to Smith could ultimately make it more difficult for them to keep Queen, who’s in the third year of his rookie deal, beyond next season. They will have to decide this offseason whether to pick up a fifth-year option on Queen, which would have cost $11.7 million in 2022. He could become a trade candidate if DeCosta decides to limit his investment at inside linebacker, not traditionally regarded as a premium position in the NFL.
With Smith, Humphrey, Stanley, safety Marcus Williams and tight end Mark Andrews all on the books for lucrative deals and Jackson perhaps set to join them, DeCosta could face plenty of difficult budgeting decisions over the next few seasons.
Given Smith’s reported $22.5 million signing bonus, his deal would not deprive the Ravens of room to sign Jackson to an extension or use the franchise tag to keep him for 2023. If he and the Ravens do not agree on an extension by March 7, Baltimore would need to use its franchise tag to keep him from becoming a free agent. Under an exclusive franchise tag, Jackson would likely be owed about $45 million next season.
But those are problems for later. For now, the Ravens hope Smith and Queen will help lead them to a playoff victory Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals. Smith led them with 16 tackles last Sunday in a 27-16 loss in Cincinnati.
“It’s an all-out war and those guys know that when we come back next week, we’ll be here,” he said afterward. “I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to show the world exactly what we’re going to do.”