Free-agent cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive back-linebacker Anthony Levine Sr. have re-signed with the Ravens on one-year deals, the team announced Monday night, fortifying one of the NFL’s top secondaries.
With Smith’s return, the Ravens will return not only their two starting safeties but also all four of their top full-time cornerbacks from a pass defense that finished No. 4 in efficiency last season, according to Football Outsiders. Defensive back Brandon Carr, whose contract option for 2020 was declined last week, and safety Tony Jefferson, who struggled before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, are the only key contributors no longer under contract.
Smith’s contract extension is worth up to $6 million in 2020, according to media reports. He became one of the NFL’s top corners available last week after he could not reach a contract extension with the Ravens. General manager Eric DeCosta said last month that Smith, 31, wanted to assess his value in free agency, which he’d never reached during his nine NFL seasons in Baltimore.
His best offer ultimately came from the Ravens, who took him with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Ahead of his 10th season, Smith has appeared in 107 games and made 83 starts for the franchise. With the retirement of guard Marshal Yanda, only punter Sam Koch and long snapper Morgan Cox have played for the Ravens longer among active players.
When healthy, Smith’s been one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks, a long and fluid talent unafraid of press coverage. But injuries have been a near-constant bugaboo, and likely hurt his value on the open market. He sprained his ankle his rookie season, underwent sports hernia surgery in 2012, suffered a season-ending Lisfranc (foot) injury in 2014, had a back injury and high-ankle sprain in 2016, tore his Achilles tendon in 2017 and sprained his MCL in the first game of 2019.
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In 2018, Smith also was suspended four games after the NFL found evidence of “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” toward a former girlfriend that “showed a pattern of improper conduct." He took full responsibility for his behavior, which he acknowledged was wrong.
The Ravens have stuck with Smith through it all, signing him to a four-year, $48 million extension in 2015 and absorbing a team-high $15.9 million contract hit last season. "We love having those guys back there, and I expect those guys to play at the very highest level in the National Football League this year,” coach John Harbaugh said before last season of Smith and Carr, the team’s oldest cornerbacks.
In nine games last year, including five starts, Smith had an interception, six passes defended and a sack. In coverage, he allowed a passer rating of just 67.8, according to Pro-Football-Reference — one of four regular defensive backs with a rating under 70. Even with the development of Marlon Humphrey and the arrival of Marcus Peters, two All-Pro cornerbacks, Smith played more than 80% of the team’s defensive snaps in all but three games after his injury.
“Obviously, the beginning sucked for me," Smith told the team website last season. "But being back ... obviously, there wasn’t a lot of pressure for me right away, because we got Marcus. So I kind of eased back in and found my spot and my groove.”
“Jimmy has always been a great corner since he’s been here," pass defense coordinator Chris Hewitt said in January. “He’s had some significant injuries. ... And every time, he’s attacked those injuries in getting himself to rehab, just the way that he attacks getting himself prepared to go play on Sundays.”
Levine, a special teams staple and versatile defender, has played in 112 consecutive games over the past seven seasons, the most among Ravens offensive and defensive players. He had 14 tackles and three quarterback hits last year while leading the team in special teams snaps (310, or 71.6% total).
Levine, who turns 33 on Friday, gives the Ravens important depth elsewhere in the secondary. While Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark are the team’s unquestioned starters at safety, Levine has shown the ability to play in the box as a run stopper and pass rusher and cover receivers downfield. He’s averaged about 15 defensive snaps per game over the past three years.