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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens’ deal for OLB Za’Darius Smith falls through, complicating search for pass rush

When the Ravens introduced new safety Marcus Williams and offensive tackle Morgan Moses at the team’s facility late Thursday morning, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith’s contract still hadn’t been finalized.

When general manager Eric DeCosta was asked whether the team planned to announce Smith’s deal, he declined to comment. “I think over the coming days, we’ll have more to say on other moves that we make,” DeCosta said.

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Now it appears Smith’s reported four-year, $35 million deal won’t be among them. Smith is not expected to sign with the Ravens under those terms, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, keeping Smith in free agency and leaving the Ravens searching once more for pass-rush help.

Smith’s deal came together on a lucrative day for free-agent pass rushers. Hours before Smith’s agreement was reported Wednesday, Chandler Jones signed a three-year, $52.5 million contract with the Las Vegas Raiders ($17.2 million annually, including $34 million guaranteed). And not long after Smith and the Ravens reached a deal, Von Miller signed a six-year, $120 million deal with the Buffalo Bills ($20 million annually), including $51 million guaranteed.

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Smith, a Pro Bowl selection in 2019 and 2020 who missed most of last season with a back injury, was reportedly set to earn $8.8 million annually, with a maximum value of $12.5 million annually. The Green Bay Packers, who signed Smith to a lucrative free-agent deal after his breakout 2018 season in Baltimore, had released him Monday in a cost-cutting move.

Smith’s pass-rush ability — he combined for 26 sacks over the 2019 and 2020 seasons — was expected to bolster a Ravens defense lacking a premier edge defender. The team ended last season with just 34 sacks, its fewest since 2016, and entered free agency with the two outside linebackers atop its depth chart, Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh, recovering from offseason surgeries.

With Wednesday’s deal scuttled, the Ravens will have to re-engage with Smith or make the most of a depleted free-agent class of pass rushers. Jadeveon Clowney, Melvin Ingram, Jerry Hughes, Trey Flowers, Derek Barnett and former Raven Justin Houston are among the best players at the position still available.

The Ravens could also find an impact pass rusher in the first round of the draft with the No. 14 overall pick. At the NFL scouting combine earlier this month, DeCosta said there was a “strong class” of outside linebackers who fit the Ravens’ scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald.

“It’s always a priority to improve the pass rush,” DeCosta said in early February. “Right here today ... I could probably tell you the three guys we would probably get if we stayed at [Pick] 14 that we would take. There probably would be three or four players that will be there when we pick in various positions, but I think we’ll be in an excellent position to get a guy who can come in and impact the club very quickly. So, pass rush, believe me; there is nobody that appreciates pass rushers more than me, and I’ve seen some great ones here. I’m optimistic and excited.”


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