The Baltimore Ravens essentially plucked linebacker Daryl Smith off the scrap heap last offseason and he repaid them ten-fold with 123 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions -- all career-bests. Keeping Smith for 2014 and beyond required more of a commitment, but it was one the Ravens almost had to make.
Smith signed a four-year, $16 million deal Friday.
The 32-year-old Smith missed all but two games while with Jacksonville in 2012, then found the free-agent market extremely unreceptive. Baltimore signed him almost as a last resort after losing Ray Lewis to retirement and Dannell Ellerbe to Miami.
The move came after Baltimore selected linebacker Arthur Brown (a favorite of the draft community) in the second round of the 2013 draft. One year later, Brown could be pressed into a full-time role next to Smith, after Jameel McClain signed with the Giants. A Brown-Smith combo shapes up as a nice mix of youth and experience, with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil flanking the pairing on the outside in what figures to be a strong linebacking corps.
The inside linebacker market had thinned considerably over the past 48 hours or so, likely leaving Baltimore to choose between either Smith or ex-Patriot Brandon Spikes. The Ravens opted to stick with Smith -- a decision that is hard to fault given Smith's 2013 showing. Even coming off that season-ending injury in 2012, Smith played nearly 1,100 snaps, with only safety James Ihedigbo topping (by one snap) in that category.
Oh, and some bonus good karma: Smith signed his new contract on his birthday, March 14. Grade: A-minus. Smith is headed into the stretch run of his career, yet proved beyond a doubt that he still has the wherewithal to play a meaningful role on Baltimore's defense. Failing to get Smith re-signed would have been a painful setback for the Ravens.