Late For Work 4/23: How Ravens Saved Themselves Millions

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How Ravens Saved Themselves Millions

Signing shutdown cornerback Jimmy Smith was perhaps the Ravens' biggest move of the offseason, yet the news was buried by the NFL schedule release. So it's important we circle back to it.

Not only did the Ravens lock up one of the league's top young cornerbacks and stabilize their secondary for years to come, but they may have gotten Smith at a bargain.

"If the going rate for free-agent cornerbacks this offseason is any indication, the Ravens might have saved themselves millions of dollars by signing Smith now and not allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency next year," wrote Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.

Here's what top cornerbacks have cost other NFL teams over the last two offseasons:

Darrelle Revis: Overall = 5 years, $70.1M; Guaranteed = $39M; Annual avg. = $14M
Patrick Peterson: Overall = 5 years, $70M; Guaranteed = $47.4M; Annual avg. = $14M
Richard Sherman: Overall = 4 years, $56M; Guaranteed = $40M; Annual avg. = $14M
Joe Haden: Overall = 5 years, $67.5M; Guaranteed = $22.6M; Annual avg. = $13.5MByron Maxwell: Overall = 6 years, $63M; Guaranteed = $25.5M; Annual avg. = $10.5M
Jimmy Smith: Overall = 4 years, $41.1M; Guaranteed = $20M; Annual avg. = $10.3M

Smith's injury history likely affected this deal.

After the Ravens made him their top overall pick in 2011, Smith has missed 17 of 64 regular-season games due to various injuries. That comes out to more than one quarter (26.5 percent) of Baltimore's games during the four-year span. That's why The Sun wrote this deal does come with "significant risk" for the Ravens.

"But the upside of Smith is worth the investment," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "Smith has the size, speed and athletic ability that teams covet at cornerback. He's smart. And he can be one of the team's core leaders."

Many onlookers expected Smith to play out the final year of his rookie contract in 2015. He was on his way to a Pro Bowl nod last season before he sustained a Lisfranc foot sprain. There is reason to believe Smith will pick up where he left off next season, meaning there's a strong chance he could have earned himself millions more.

His chances were so good that Hensley views Tuesday's signing as Smith doing the Ravens a solid.

"When an extension is signed in the NFL, it's typically a reward for the player. When [Smith] agreed to his new deal Tuesday, it was the Baltimore Ravens who were rewarded for putting their faith in him," Hensley wrote.

"While no one should downplay such a huge investment, you have to wonder how much Smith would've commanded if he waited to reach free agency in 2016 or 2017. Could he have received $14 million per year like Patrick Peterson? Could he have exceeded Byron Maxwell's $25.5 million in guaranteed money?"

But Smith said he didn't care about any of that stuff.

He didn't want the title of "highest-paid corner." He wanted to stay with the Ravens and be surrounded by other talented players. He couldn't have it both ways without a small sacrifice. "You [the Ravens] have to pay other people," Smith said.

Back in 2011, Smith took a steep tumble down the draft board after his character was frequently questioned. Hensley noted that a Journal Sentinel poll conducted before the draft revealed 11 of 24 NFL team personnel saying they wouldn't draft Smith in the first two rounds. He was considered top-10 talent, yet Baltimore got him at No. 27.

The Ravens bet on Smith, and he hasn't forgotten.

"They drafted me. They trusted me," Smith said. "Coming out of the draft, you guys read it. It made me feel some type of way.

"For this organization to stand by me through everything that has happened to me up to this point, it means a lot. They had my back, so I'm staying here."
*
*Smith's cap hits over the next five years (per Aaron Wilson):
2015: $3.6M
2016: $9.6M
2017: $11.1M
2018: $11.6M
2019: $12.1M

Can Elam Turn Around Young Career Like Jimmy?

While Smith is considered one of the best in the league at his position today, he didn't always have that reputation.

"His career did not start that way," wrote The Sun's Alexander Pyles. "There were questions about whether Smith would develop into the shutdown cornerback the Ravens thought they were getting with their first-round draft pick in 2011 after he started just five games over his first two seasons."

Smith didn't play all 16 games until the 2013 season and didn't "truly" emerge until last season, his fourth in the league, says Pyles.

 "Despite his size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) and draft status, it took time for him to fulfill expectations," wrote Pyles.

"The situations are different in more ways than one, but Ravens fans might want to keep that in mind when evaluating the first two seasons of safety Matt Elam's career. … [B]efore giving up on Elam – he's just 23 years old – remember that Jimmy Smith didn't become Jimmy Smith until he was 25."

Forsett Preparing For Competition From Draft

It's not really a question of whether the Ravens will draft a running back in next week's draft, it's more a question of when.

Based on General Manager Ozzie Newsome's recent history, he could pull the trigger somewhere between the third and fifth rounds. But Zrebiec also says there's a "decent" chance a running back could be selected in the first three rounds.

For the second time this offseason and eight days before the draft, ESPN's Todd McShay has projected that the Ravens will select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon with their No. 26 pick.

"[They] need depth at running back alongside Justin Forsett, who is coming off a career year but will turn 30 years old this season, and Gordon qualifies as a good value at this point," wrote McShay. 

Well, Forsett is a smart dude, and he understands younger competition could be coming.  So he's simply focused on producing in order to keep his job, but he also wants to help mentor and grow whoever walks through the doors at the Under Armour Performance Center.

"My job is to go out and produce and make plays and have an impact," Forsett said Wednesday. "If they bring someone else in, just go ahead and compete.

"I've been in the game going on my eighth season, so even with the guys here, being a leader, being able to mentor those guys, I can help them on and off the field. I feel like that's what I'm here for."

Qadry Ismail's Bold Prediction

It would be surprising to see the Ravens draft talented wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, given his background that connects him to domestic violence.

In fact, CSNBaltimore.com's Bo Smolka speculated whether his visit to the Ravens facility this month was a smokescreen so that other teams don't assume that Green-Beckham has been eliminated from the draft board.

Count former Ravens wide receiver and TV analyst Qadry Ismail among those who thinks Green-Beckham is a possibility. Despite his red flags, Ismail predicted that the Ravens would pick up the massive 6-foot-5, 237-pounder with the 26th-overall pick.

"They're going to go with a receiver," Ismail told the NFL Network in the video below. "They need to give Joe Flacco a weapon to replace Torrey Smith who left via free agency."

A receiver thinks the Ravens should draft a pass catcher? No surprise there, Q.

Ravens Have Most Road Monday Night Games Over Last Decade

Head Coach John Harbaugh has asked for a home Monday night game, but the schedule makers didn't oblige in 2015. Instead, they handed the Ravens two more road Monday Night Football contests this season – Week 7 in Arizona and Week 12 in Cleveland.

The Sun's Jon Meoli dug into the numbers and found that the Ravens have had the league's most MNF road games during the past decade. Additionally, they have the fewest (tied with the New York Giants) home games on Monday nights.

Over the last 10 years, Baltimore has had 12 road MNF games, followed by the New York Giants (11), then Green Bay and Chicago (10 each). The Ravens own a 5-7 record in those contests.

"Something tells me this will all be catnip for coach John Harbaugh, who will turn the trips into something for his team to rally around," wrote Meoli.

Re-Grading 2011 Draft

Three of the Ravens 2011 draft picks have racked up a total of $58.5 million in guaranteed money over the last two months.

That's a pretty good sign that Ravens brass put together a strong draft class that year. Hensley gave the Ravens an overall B-minus grade for its 2011 selections.

"Overall, it's considered a good draft if you can add three significant impact players to replenish talent, and the Ravens certainly got that in 2011 with Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith and Pernell McPhee," wrote Hensley. "If anyone doubts that, all you have to do is look at how much these players are coveted."

Below are Hensley's pick-by-pick grades:

First round: CB Jimmy Smith (A-minus)
Second round: WR Torrey Smith (B)
Third round: OL Jah Reid (F)
Fourth round: WR Tandon Doss (C-minus)
Fifth round: CB Chykie Brown (D)
Fifth round: LB Pernell McPhee (B-plus)
Sixth round: QB Tyrod Taylor (Incomplete)
Seventh round: RB Anthony Allen (C-minus)

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