The Baltimore Ravens again successfully re-signed one of their own in-house free agents on Friday, with ESPN's Adam Schefter confirming inside linebacker Daryl Smith has received a four-year, $16.1 million contract.
Ravens and LB Daryl Smith reached agreement on a four-year, $16.1 million deal, per sources.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2014
The signing was an offseason priority for the team, one that became even more crucial after another inside linebacker, Jameel McClain, agreed to a contract with the New York Giants, according to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News.
Smith, who was signed in June 2013, had large shoes to fill as the replacement for the retired Ray Lewis at middle linebacker. Smith delivered on the field, leading the team with 123 tackles and adding five sacks, 18 passes defensed, three interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles in his first season in Baltimore.
He was also a leader in the locker room, bringing his experience as a 10-year veteran to a defense that had gotten drastically younger last offseason. He was the defense's quarterback despite being with the Ravens for just a short time.
Everything he contributed to the Ravens in 2013 pointed to him being a high priority for a new contract this offseason. And even at 32 years old—he received his deal on his birthday—he'll still remain just as vital to Baltimore's defense in 2014 and beyond.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Smith ranked 16th among inside linebackers and tied for fifth in pass coverage—an area which the Ravens linebackers had previously been weak. Of Smith's total 1,097 defensive snaps in 2013, over half—556—were spent in coverage. He gave up just 43 receptions on 73 targets, for 415 yards, 212 yards after the catch and allowed four touchdowns compared to the three aforementioned interceptions.
With athletic, pass-catching tight ends and elusive slot receivers driving much of the league's passing game, possessing a strong coverage linebacker is an asset, and not one every team can boast. For Smith's relative weakness defending the run, he certainly makes up for it in pass coverage, which is why he was signed to begin with and why he warranted a new contract.
Smith also ranked fifth in Pro Football Focus' tackle efficiency metric, missing one tackle for every 15.4 made, as well as seventh in pass-rushing productivity. He's not a one-note linebacker or a specialist; Smith is an every-down starter as well as a rare talent.
Though negotiations took time, the result is what both the Ravens needed and what Smith wanted as well. Speaking to Aaron Wilson and Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun on the new contract, Smith said,
I'm happy it's over with and I'm coming back here. I really didn't really want to move around again. I love the city of Baltimore, my family loves it. We love the organization, first-class in everything they do. It’s hard to turn down. I didn't want to leave there.
Until last year, the Ravens had only one middle linebacker in franchise history. To replace Lewis means finding someone who can carry on the tradition he started in 1996. This isn't a position that warrants a stop-gap starter.
Smith made the transition away from Lewis so seamless it was hardly detectable in 2013. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is known for finding diamonds in the rough, and Smith is yet another example of his skill with personnel.
And once found, there was no chance the Ravens were going to let Smith move on without a concerted effort to broker a deal that benefited both sides. The Ravens now get to keep one of their strongest and most talented defensive leaders while Smith is able to remain a starter on a team that both values and knows how to use him.