A few months ago, fans and the media alike were in full-on Chicken Little mode after a number of veteran defections from the Baltimore Ravens. The sky was falling for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Since then the Ravens have made a number of shrewd personnel moves, and had a successful 2013 NFL draft. At this point, it's not a huge stretch to say that this year's Ravens squad is every bit as talented as the team that hoisted the Lombardi trophy last February.
The latest move came on Wednesday, when the team agreed to terms with veteran linebacker Daryl Smith on a one-year contract.
The 31-year-old Smith played in only two games last year due to a groin injury, but he'll bring a lot to the table for the Ravens if he's recovered from that injury.
According to the Ravens' website, head coach John Harbaugh was very pleased with the signing.
Harbs on Daryl Smith: "He's always been a superb player." called him under the radar— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) June 6, 2013
Former teammate Paul Posluszny was also effusive in his praise for Smith.
Posluszny on ex Jag/now Raven Daryl Smith: "He was the best LB I’ve ever played with even though we had just that one year together."— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) June 6, 2013
There's good reason for that praise. In 2011, Smith's last full season, he made 107 tackles for the Jacksonville Jaguars, chipping in 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception while grading out as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) second-best 4-3 outside linebacker.
In Baltimore, Smith will probably kick inside, but that shouldn't be a huge issue. The all-time leading tackler in Jaguars' history played all three linebacker spots in Jacksonville, including 21 career starts at middle linebacker.
The team addressed that hole with the selection of Kansas State's Arthur Brown in the second round of April's draft, but surgery to repair a sports hernia has gotten Brown's time with the Ravens off to a rocky start.
Brown's surgery adds more uncertainty to an already cloudy linebacker corps. Jameel McClain, the presumptive starter next to Brown, is still working his way back into shape after a spinal cord contusion landed him on injured reserve last year.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently told Garrett Downing of the team's website that it's very important for the Ravens to get McClain back on the field.
We definitely want Jameel out there, It’s very critical from the standpoint of he’s our leadership out there. He’s been in there and run the show when Ray was out for 10 games last year, and four games the year before. He’s kind of the only veteran inside guy that we really have in there. So, we really want to get him back.
It's worth noting that Pees' comments came before Smith was signed. Granted, Smith isn't familiar with Baltimore's "hybrid" defensive scheme yet. Once he is, not only does he provide the Ravens with veteran depth at linebacker, but it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him push for a starting job.
A look at the numbers for McClain and Smith in 2011 (their last full season) shows why.
Mind you, this isn't to say that Jameel McClain isn't a good football player, just that when healthy, Daryl Smith is a better one.
That's why it's hard to view this as anything more than a great signing by the Ravens. In a worst case scenario the Ravens should at least get some badly needed depth. At best they just landed one of the more underrated linebackers in the NFL for pennies on the dollar.
Turns out the sky isn't falling after all.
Apparently Ozzie Newsome knows what he's doing.