The Ravens kicked off the offseason by retaining one of their own, inking safety Chuck Clark to a three-year extension Monday morning.
Clark, 24, is fresh off a breakout season in which he proved that he is a high-level NFL starter. After spending his first two seasons as a backup, he stepped into the starting lineup in Week 6. Clark was about to enter the final year of his rookie deal, and is now under contract through 2023.
"Chuck is a great story about hard work, patience, preparation and passion," General Manager Eric DeCosta stated. "He waited for his chance and seized the opportunity. Chuck's a good football player, a fine teammate and a respected leader. He's the type of player we want on our defense for a long time. Congrats to Chuck and his family."
Many factors played into why the Ravens were the league's top defense from Week 7 through the end of the season. The addition of Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters was huge, as was the stability gained at inside linebacker and additions on the defensive front. But the insertion of Clark was at or near the top of the list of reasons for the turnaround.
"For me, it just sets the tone for where I go from here in my career," Clark said the day after the Ravens' season ended in the playoffs.
Clark took over the defensive communication helmet and thus a pivotal role in orchestrating the unit. His steady, calm attitude and communication helped the unit, and smoothed out some early lapses.
"As far as the communicator, as far as the checks, as far as the football smarts, he has become that [Eric] Weddle, that Magic Johnson of the defense – of getting people lined up and setting them up to make plays as well," Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said late in the season. "He has had a tremendous year and I'm really happy for him."
Clark also takes care of his own business quite well. One of his greatest strengths is that he's almost always in the right spot at the right time. His teammates rave about his intelligence and film study. After Earl Thomas III arrived in Baltimore last year and saw how well Clark knew the defense, he said, "Bro, why would they bring me in when they got this guy?"
Now Thomas and Clark will be teaming up for years to come. The two work well in unison, with both being flexible enough to drop down or play deep, to be one of the top tandems in the NFL.
"Chuck is extremely smart. He can line everybody up, he can manage the defense, and on top of that, he's a great athlete," Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt stated. "He has every attribute to become a great player in this league."
Clark is especially versatile, showing he can even be a roving linebacker in the Ravens defense. He led the Ravens with 73 tackles this season, and blitzed more than nearly every other safety in the league. In coverage, he allowed a passer rating of just 75.1, notched nine pass breakups and grabbed one interception. He also had two forced fumbles.
A sixth-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2017, Clark had started just two games in his first two seasons as he waited his turn behind other safeties. Now he's a key part of one of the best secondaries in the league, which looks like it will be together for a long time. Baltimore signed Peters to a three-year extension during the season and inked Tavon Young to an extension last offseason.
DeCosta continues to keep good, young players across the roster before they hit free agency, and he'll likely continue to do more.