The inside linebacker position has always been a premier spot for the Baltimore Ravens defense. Their two Super Bowl seasons were spearheaded by Hall of Fame Ray Lewis. Then, C.J. Mosley came via the draft in 2014 and led the Ravens on solid playoff runs before leaving via free agency when he signed with the New York Jets four years later.

The Ravens recalibrated a few years later when they traded linebacker A.J. Klein along with a second- and a fifth-round pick in 2023 for middle linebacker Roquan Smith, who at the time was leading the NFL with 83 tackles. Baltimore had long been looking to upgrade at inside linebacker, as Josh Bynes has struggled, and Patrick Queen has fallen short of first-round expectations. Queen has blossomed since Smith arrived by posting 66 tackles and an interception.

It’s no coincidence that Queen had some of his best games since Smith was acquired. Smith has since settled in perfectly with the Ravens. The Ravens have allowed more than 16 points twice in nine games. Smith’s numbers have been impressive. Smith has 86 tackles, two sacks and an interception to go along with seven tackles for a loss and one quarterback hit in nine games. His 169 total tackles ranked third in the NFL as he made his first Pro Bowl. Smith is the first player since Lewis to record at least 100 tackles, multiple sacks and one interception in each of the first five years of a career.

That’s why the Ravens signed him to a five-year, $100 million contract extension this week that includes $45 million in fully guaranteed money and $60 million in total guaranteed. The deal makes Smith the highest paid off-ball linebacker in the NFL.

“Roquan, he has been fantastic,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.” He’s all about it. He doesn’t worry about what people think; he doesn’t care. He wants to do the things that are required to be a great player and to be a great unit and then to impact your team. That’s what he’s all about – 100% – [and] that’s what I love about him. He’s one of the top guys I’ve ever seen that way, and I think that does always impact everybody as a leader, for sure. I want all of our guys to lead that way.”

Smith became available after an offseason hold-in that resulted from not getting the contract extension that he desired. The Bears were rumored to have offered Smith a five-year extension worth $95 million. The deal reportedly was back loaded and had de-escalators in it that would potentially drop the value of the contract. Despite not having a deal, Smith reported to camp but didn’t take part in any activities. Midway through the season, Chicago figured it was time to get whatever value they could, so they dealt him to the Ravens.

Smith saw right away that Baltimore was the place for him to spend the next phase of his career.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Smith said via NFL Network’s Good Morning Football on Monday. “This is a group of great teammates and the guys have been very welcoming to me since I’ve been here. I’ve gotten adjusted to the playbook so I’m very excited for what is all in store here. I have a great deal of respect for those guys, Sizzle [Terrell Suggs], Ray [Lewis], Ed [Reed] and what those guys did back in the day. I’m excited about this group and think there’s a lot of great things in store. We’re just getting started.”

Smith and the Ravens make a return to the postseason on Sunday when they visit the rival Cincinnati Bengals in the wildcard round of the playoffs. The game will be a rematch of last week’s 27-16 loss to the Bengals. Smith would like nothing more than getting revenge in Cincinnati.

“We came up short, but I’m looking forward to next week, seeing these guys again. I think it’ll be even sweeter then,” Smith said.” All the marbles. It’s an all-out war and those guys know that when we come back next week, we’ll be here. I’m excited and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for us to show the world exactly what we’re going to do.”

Tyler Hamilton
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