Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith doesn’t like to brag. Even after signing a five-year contract extension reportedly worth $100 million, Smith didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself.
When he stood alongside fellow inside linebacker Patrick Queen in a meeting room after completing the deal Tuesday, the former Georgia standout didn’t tell his teammate that he was staying in Baltimore for the long haul. For Smith, it was just a normal day.
“[Smith] didn’t say anything,” Queen said. “We came out of the defensive meeting room and walked into the linebacker room and he just put his bags down and walked into the hallway. Everybody was like ‘Did you sign?’ And he was like ‘Yeah.’
“You wouldn’t expect anybody to go around [bragging], but everyone is extremely happy for him.”
When Smith was traded from the Chicago Bears in late October, he knew that he wanted to be in Baltimore long term. He credits his teammates and coaches for making him feel at home.
“When you feel like that, it’s like, ‘Man, I want to be here for the long haul and make a positive impact,’” he said.
The 25-year-old Smith became the highest-paid off-ball linebacker in NFL history without the help of an agent, but the thought hasn’t sunk in yet. “It’s crazy just knowing where I grew up in Marshallville, Georgia, [with a] population [of] 1,100 right now,” he said.
Securing financial stability has been a difficult process for Smith, who openly requested a trade from Chicago in August after contract talks broke down with the team’s new front office. While Smith said before the season that the Bears “refused to negotiate in good faith,” he praised executive vice president and general manager Eric DeCosta for being fair and honest throughout their discussions. The two began contract negotiations in mid-December, having sit-down conversations during days off and exchanging emails.
The fifth-year pro said the deal reaffirmed his belief in negotiating without an agent — something star quarterback Lamar Jackson is also doing as he seeks a long-term deal.
“Everyone has their opinions about how they think things should be run,” Smith said. “I think, nowadays, players want to be at the table for 100% transparency, and I think if you’ll be there and you have respect for the guy you’re talking with and you have help from your advisors and things like that, there aren’t things you can’t do.”
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Smith pondered the idea of entering free agency this offseason, but he thought Baltimore gave him the best chance to compete for a championship on a yearly basis.
“I maybe could have gotten more [money somewhere else], but I’m happy where I’m at,” Smith said. “I knew this place was a place where I could [compete] year in and year out. So, I wasn’t really worried about free agency. I was just more focused on getting a deal done here because I love it here so far.”
Smith’s impact has been invaluable, so much so that he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player by local media on Wednesday after playing in just nine games. The first-time Pro Bowl selection has made plays all over the field, totaling 169 total tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and three interceptions.
Simply put, Smith has transformed the Ravens’ defense, as it went from being ranked 15th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA to third since Smith paired up with Queen in the middle of the field.
“He’s even better than we thought,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think the impact he’s had on the whole defense — including his sidekick Pat Queen — those two guys together really hit it off and do a nice job together.”
Smith’s leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed. Rookie safety Kyle Hamilton said Smith has provided energy on the field while holding everyone to the same standard. “I think he’s made everybody better,” he said.
“You look at what the defensive guys say about him, and he’s just been a joy,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “He’s been a joy to have in the locker room. [He’s] an extremely good guy. Like everyone says, he communicates very well. He’s a guy who brings the team together, so I always love what he has to say, [and] I always listen. I really respect him as a teammate and a friend.”