The Ravens have released veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith, but he could still make a return.
“While we are releasing Daryl, we are not closing the door on the possibility of him returning to the Ravens,” General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated.
“He deserves an opportunity to see his market value at this time. With ‘Buck,’ you’re talking about one of the NFL’s highest-quality people. We have been fortunate to have him with the Ravens, and his production has been outstanding.”
The Ravens have previously brought back defensive end Chris Canty and fullback Vonta Leach during the same offseason that they were released by the team. Baltimore could possibly get Smith at a lower cost.
Releasing Smith now reportedly saves $2.625 million in cap space and help clear more room for the Ravens to lock up their own free agents (such as tackle/guard Kelechi Osemele) and be aggressive on the open market.
The flip side is that it means the departure, at least for now, of one of the defense’s top producers and leaders.
The 12-year veteran has been a reliable tackling machine in Baltimore for the past three seasons since coming from Jacksonville. He started every single game (48 regular season plus postseason)
Smith led the Ravens in tackles two of the past three seasons, including last year when he notched 121 stops. Smith was also a threat to get to the quarterback, as he notched five sacks in 2013, one in 2014 and three sacks in 2015.
Smith is one of just two NFL players (Lavonte David) to post at least 350 tackles, five sacks, five interceptions and four forced fumbles over the past three years. With 30.5 sacks and 11 interceptions, he is one of four active NFL players (Lawrence Timmons, Julius Peppers and Karlos Dansby) with at least 30 sacks and 10 thefts in a career. Smith led all NFL linebackers with 31 passes defensed over the past three seasons.
The 33-year-old veteran started to struggle a bit more in pass coverage last season, however, leading to the Ravens using second-year undrafted linebacker Zachary Orr on third down.
In 2013, Smith had three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and a whopping 18 passes defensed. In 2014, he had one interception and eight passes defensed. Last season, he had one interception and just three passes defensed.
Smith registered a minus-9.0 grade from Pro Football Focus last season, a sharp decline from a plus-14.0 mark from a year ago.
Letting go of Smith would be more than just losing his on-field performance. It flew under the radar, but Smith greatly helped the Ravens defense transition after the retirement of Ray Lewis in 2012.
Smith is a true professional in the classroom and locker room and a player others look to as an example. He’s one of the team’s most respected players. Smith helped groom Ravens 2014 first-round pick C.J. Mosley, who will now take over as the anchor in the middle of the defense.
“We have been blessed to have a person like Daryl Smith on our team,” Head Coach John Harbaugh stated. “He has been a steady and intelligent player with grit. ‘Buck’ is a special individual who has become a friend. Everyone who has spent time with him understands what I’m talking about. His numbers speak for themselves.”
The Ravens could turn to Orr, 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown or veteran Albert McClellan to fill the void. Orr showed flashes of his potential with 22 tackles last season. Brown has yet to find a role in his three years, but this could be the chance the athletic Kansas State product has needed.
The Ravens could also look to add an inside linebacker via free agency or the draft. UCLA’s Myles Jack, who is projected to be a top-10 pick, could fill the void and add more in pass coverage.