Brendon Ayanbadejo's football career has taken a long and winding road, and he's happy that journey now includes a stop in Baltimore.
The Pro Bowl special teams standout was at Ravens headquarters Monday to sign a new four-year contract, a decision over the New York Jets and Chicago Bears that Ayanbadejo found simple.
He pointed to the Ravens' tradition of strong defense and head coach John Harbaugh's commitment to special teams as two mitigating factors. But, Ayanbadejo was perhaps pushed over the edge by a well-presented tour of the team's training facility.
"The head coach was walking me around the facility, and we played basketball, watched some guys play racquetball," he said in a meeting with Baltimore media Monday. "I never did that with any of the other coaches. I never did that with [Bears head coach] Lovie Smith, and Lovie Smith is a great coach.
"For me, the coach exceeded what I already had with Lovie, and Lovie had this stature of kind of a hero. Coach Harbaugh exceeded that in my eyes. It's pretty amazing."
Ayanbadejo, 31, spent three seasons in Chicago, earning Pro Bowl berths the past two for his heroics on special teams. Last year, he led the Bears with 26 special teams tackles after posting 28 in both 2005 and '06.
Ayanbadejo credits his performance in the kicking game as the reason for his rise from young journeyman in Canadian football and overseas to coveted free agent.
"I've been cut from three NFL teams, played in NFL Europe, played in the CFL," he said. "I basically played football all over the world, and it led to another opportunity in the NFL. Six years later, here I am, where I'm supposed to be with the coach that has a big-time emphasis on special teams, with a monster defense."
Ayanbadejo's status is a stark difference to the meager times as a rookie free agent fresh out of UCLA nine years ago. It was then that his older brother, Obafemi, who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens as a fullback, sponsored Brendon's aspirations of making it professionally.
"While he was being successful, I can't say that I was underachieving, but I wasn't seeing the same success," stated the younger sibling. "He basically said, 'You've got one more shot. I'm paying your bills for one more year, and then you have to make it happen.' That was the year everything worked out."
Because of his humble beginnings in the league, Ayanbadejo remained grounded through the free agency process.
"I know what it's like not to make any money. I know what's it's like to make a good amount of money – I don't know what it's like to make Ray Lewis money, but I know what it's like to make decent money," he explained. "So I just appreciate everything – every day, every play. I'm enjoying this because tomorrow it might not be the case.
"My perspective is that I've experienced everything, the full gamut, I've been all the way around and everything's come full circle."
It was a message that seemed to echo the "team" mantra Harbaugh has preached ever since he was hired in January.
"Brendon's style of play and demeanor is great for the Ravens," said Harbaugh upon Ayanbadejo's signing. "Teams will have to scheme to try and handle Brendon."
The 6-foot-1, 228-pounder came into negotiations with some knowledge of Harbaugh, who was one of the NFL's top special teams coordinators with the Philadelphia Eagles for nine years. Ayanbadejo's coordinator in Chicago, Dave Toub, was the Eagles' assistant special teams coach under Harbaugh from 2001-03.
Ayanbadejo hopes to boost the Ravens' special teams units, led by coordinator Jerry Rosburg, to the level of Chicago's, which boasted the league's best in 2007. The Bears sent Ayanbadejo, kicker Robbie Gould and return specialist Devin Hester to Hawaii last year.
He will join Gary Stills, another former Pro Bowl special teamer, to form a fearsome coverage duo for the Ravens.
"We all know that special teams takes special effort," said Ayanbadejo. "You've got to have a guy out there that will give his maximum. You don't have to be the best player on the field, nor the fastest or strongest. But, you do have to be the guy that is going to play the hardest from whistle to whistle giving his best effort."
But as far as who represents AFC special teams in next year's Pro Bowl, Ayanbadejo aims to keep his crown for a third straight campaign.
"Everything I do I want to be the best at it, and even if I end up not being the best, I'm going to give it my best shot," he concluded.