Sacks make money.
Courtney Upshaw knows that as well as anyone. The Ravens outside linebacker has seen his predecessors like Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee cash in with big contracts after tormenting quarterbacks the previous season.
Now Upshaw will likely have his chance to rack up production in the pass-rush department.
"I think Courtney is realizing that he's in his contract yet, and getting to the quarterback only adds to his value as he moves forward," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said during a conference call with PSL owners last week.
Upshaw, 25, has three sacks in his first three NFL seasons. The Ravens' top draft pick of 2012 came into the NFL with a pedigree as a pass rusher, but Baltimore has opted to use him in an edge-setting role where he can stuff the run on first and second down.
Upshaw thrives as a SAM linebacker, but now the Ravens may look for him to expand that role this year. McPhee left Baltimore after collecting 7.5 sacks in 2014, and Upshaw has his eyes set on getting to opposing quarterbacks.
"I'm happy for Pernell. He deserved it, just seeing how hard he worked," Upshaw said. "But with him being gone, we all want more snaps and I see it as an opportunity for me to get more snaps, especially in passing situations.
"I have no problem with the role that I've been given. It's on me to take advantage of my new role, if given the opportunity to get more snaps as a rusher. It's on me to go get a couple quarterbacks."
The Ravens have put Upshaw into the run-stuffing role to play to their overall defensive strengths. The gritty 272-pound defender has the size to dominate the line of scrimmage, and the Ravens already have Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to chase down quarterbacks in passing situations.
"You have Suggs and Elvis – two of the top guys in the league who have been doing it for a long time – I knew that my role was to get in there, handle business on first, second downs, and get us to third down, and let those guys go hunt," Upshaw said. "I've never had a problem with it. Those are my teammates and I'm all about winning."
Upshaw did get a taste of life as a rush linebacker early in his rookie season when Suggs missed the first eight games recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. But once Suggs returned, Upshaw settled into his role as the starting SAM linebacker.
Upshaw has flashed at times as a pass rusher. He delivered a crushing blow on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 last year – Roethlisberger said the hit had him sore for several weeks – but the sack ended up getting waved off because of a roughing the passer call.
Upshaw later finished the season without a sack for the first time in his career.
"Last year I felt like with that hit against Ben, I thought I was going to be clicking," Upshaw said. "But it didn't work out that way."
"I know the knock on me is not getting the sacks. I just feel like that would add more dimensions to my type of skillset, and show people that I can also do this, as well as kick butt on the line against tight ends, and dominate the run game."
As the four-year veteran enters the final season of his rookie deal, Upshaw has another chance to develop as a pass rusher. The Ravens finished second in the NFL with 49 sacks last year, and losing McPhee was a significant blow to the defense.
Rookie outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith is expected to provide support as a pass rusher, but Upshaw knows that he's also capable of getting in the backfield if that's what the coaches want from him.
"Any player would be lying if they said it didn't cross their mind that it's their contract year. At the same time, in order for me to get a big payday like Pernell or anybody, I have to go out and handle business on the field," Upshaw said. "Whatever it is, I'm going to go out there and do it to the best of my ability."