Report: Roquan Smith, Ravens Agree to 5-Year, $100M Contract as NFL's Top-Paid ILB

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2023

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - DECEMBER 04: Roquan Smith #18 of the Baltimore Ravens is introduced before the game against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
G Fiume/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens didn't wait until the offseason to extend linebacker Roquan Smith's stay.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday the two parties agreed to a five-year, $100 million contract that includes $60 million guaranteed. It's the most money paid out to an off-ball linebacker.

His $20 million average salary takes him ahead of the Indianapolis Colts' Shaquille Leonard ($19.7 million).

Securing Smith now could have major implications for the Ravens' offseason since they're now free to use the franchise tag on another notable free agent, Lamar Jackson.

Jason B. Hirschhorn @by_JBH

Signing Roquan Smith to an extension functionally had to happen before March 7, the deadline to use the franchise tag. The Ravens needed to keep the tag available for Lamar Jackson whose contract is set to expire this offseason.

Smith's new contract does, however, present an issue because Baltimore now has less money—depending on what his 2023 salary cap hit is—to spread around to the rest of the roster.

At least the team now has a window to apply the tag to Jackson before getting more serious about a long-term deal. Should the worst-case scenario come to fruition, the franchise tag also gives the Ravens some leverage in trade negotiations surrounding the 2019 MVP.

For Smith, a big payday was coming down the pike whether it came from Baltimore or another team. The 25-year-old was named second-team All-Pro in each of the last two seasons and made his first Pro Bowl after posting 169 combined tackles, 4.5 sacks and three interceptions in 2022 across his spells with the Ravens and Chicago Bears.

In November, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox ranked Smith as the No. 4 overall player due to hit the open market.

There's always a risk to paying a premium for a non-premium position. Off-ball linebackers simply aren't as valuable as edge defenders, and replacing Smith with a rookie or cheaper veteran might've been more cost-effective in the long run.

The Bears, for example, weren't willing to meet Smith's asking price and eventually shipped him to Baltimore in return for second- and fifth-round picks in 2023.

By making that trade, the Ravens backed themselves into a corner. They couldn't afford to give up good draft capital for a half-season rental, and they couldn't have negotiations with Smith linger deep into the offseason, lest it limit their flexibility with Jackson.

General manager Eric DeCosta still has plenty on his plate, but he now checked one of the biggest tasks off his to-do list.