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Late for Work 1/11: Ray Lewis: Roquan Smith Is 'Great Leader, Built to Play Linebacker'

(From left to right) LBs Roquan Smith & Ray Lewis

Ray Lewis: Roquan Smith Is 'Great Leader, Built to Play Linebacker'

It's obviously a huge honor for an inside linebacker to be mentioned in the same sentence as Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who is perhaps the greatest to ever play the position. It's perhaps an even bigger honor to be endorsed by the man himself.

After the news broke yesterday that Roquan Smith and the Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a five-year contract extension worth $100 million, which would make Smith the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history, Lewis spoke very highly of the two-time second-team All-Pro.

"That's the way the linebacker position is played. He's built to play the linebacker position," Lewis told The Athletic. "That's what he does very well: Find it, get to it and punish it. He's somebody who I enjoy watching play, and his leadership. Although he's not a rah-rah guy, his leadership is way on the other side of what people give him credit for. He challenges people to know it, to understand it, to feel it and to be accountable. That aligns with a great leader. I love Roquan Smith."

The impact the 25-year-old Smith has had on the defense since the Ravens acquired him in a midseason trade with the Chicago Bears is undeniable. The proof is in the game film and the stat sheets.

Smith is coming off one of his best performances of the season, as he had 16 tackles and was a physical tone-setter in this past Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who will host the Ravens in a playoff rematch Sunday night.

Report: 'Not Looking Good for Lamar Jackson' to Play Sunday

The odds of Jackson returning for Sunday night's playoff game are not good, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo.

"Not looking good for Lamar Jackson, which is I would say a little bit of a surprise," Rapoport said this morning on "Good Morning Football." "My understanding, this is something my sources have said over the past 24 hours, is that Lamar Jackson faces an uphill battle to be able to get out on the field in the playoffs against the Cincinnati Bengals. He is working, he is trying, he is rehabbing, but the knee is just not quite right.

"I would be surprised, based on what I know, if he practices today, which means we could see another week of Tyler 'Snoop' Huntley for the Baltimore Ravens."

Jackson suffered a knee injury (reportedly a sprained PCL) against the Denver Broncos in Week 13 and has not returned to practice since.

NFL Media reporter Jim Trotter said yesterday that another player around the league told him that if Jackson has a grade-two PCL sprain, he wouldn't be the same player even if he does get back on the field for the playoffs.

"I hate to hear the contract situation brought into this because if you know Lamar, that's not what he's about," Trotter said. "He wants to be there for his guys. … I don't believe this is about contract. I believe this is truly about his health and him wanting to be right so he can perform for his teammates."

Jackson retweeted the video of Trotter's take.

How Smith's Deal Could Impact Jackson

No sooner had the Smith deal been reported that the question of how it will affect the Ravens getting a long-term deal done with Lamar Jackson was raised.

"In a way, Smith's deal clears the deck and gives the Ravens a bit more flexibility in the negotiations with their star quarterback," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "A team can only use the franchise tag on one player, and with Smith signed, the Ravens will have the tag available to use on Jackson if talks on an extension have not progressed enough to get a deal done before the free-agent market opens. Jackson's status was expected to extend into the offseason. That became close to a formality when the two sides agreed to table negotiations until after the 2022 season."

Pundits React to Ravens Extending Smith

Here's a look at what the pundits wrote about the Smith deal:

Zrebiec: "There are obviously teams and football executives who don't feel it is prudent to pay big bucks to off-the-ball linebackers. The Ravens, however, have never been shy about investing in defensive playmakers and they view Smith in that mold. Inside linebacker is a glamour position in Baltimore because of Ray Lewis, and Smith has proven himself to be one of the league's best."

Pro Football Focus’ Brad Spielberger: "Putting positional value to one side to evaluate the player in a vacuum, Smith and the Ravens have been a fantastic match since his arrival on trade deadline day. The eighth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft has produced a career-high 84.7 PFF grade since joining the team, a mark that leads all Ravens defenders this season. Not only that, but it's the highest single-season grade by a Ravens linebacker since Ray Lewis in 2009.[period]"

The Baltimore Banner’s Jonas Shaffer: "Smith's role can now continue to evolve in a defense that, under [Defensive Coordinator Mike] Macdonald, has tried new ways to maximize his athletic gifts. In his first eight games with the Bears this season, he was involved in Chicago's pass rush 24 times, or three times per game, according to PFF. In Baltimore, he has rushed the passer 42 times, or 4.7 times per game. Smith's extension also ensures his return to a locker room that embraced him as quickly as he did his new teammates. Smith needed little time in Baltimore to befriend [Patrick] Queen, learn the defensive playbook and earn an affectionate new nickname: 'Uncle Ro.'"

Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann: "It's strange for me to say that I'm excited about paying an off-ball linebacker $20 million a year in this day and age, but I am. Smith made an impact on this defense immediately, and it's an easy assumption to make that he will only get better next year and going forward after full off-seasons with the team. There are times you have to step back from positional value and recognize pure impact. Smith makes the defense better. If that is from the edge, out "on an island" at corner, caving in a pocket from the middle or simply making plays all over the field, that's value. Team value. Smith brings that."

Russell Street Report’s Chad Racine: "The early reports last off-season claimed that Roquan wanted 20 million per year. He got it, from a team that values his play and leadership on and off the field. For a position undervalued in recent years the Ravens don't cave to trends and make decisions for themselves. Smith has transformed this defense and it's money well spent. He's been the best middle linebacker since Ray Lewis and the Ravens were smart enough not to let him walk.[space]Eric DeCosta made the right move in my opinion."

Baltimore Beatdown’s Dustin Cox: "From the moment he stepped foot on a football field wearing purple and black, Roquan Smith is one of those players that feels like he should have been a Raven his entire career. He embodies the hard-nosed physical style of football Baltimore has relished for the majority of franchise existence. Smith sets the tone on defense and has helped elevate other players around him to new heights. Such a player is an obvious building block for this organization."

Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz: "Roquan Smith is the quintessential Baltimore Raven. His durability, speed, physicality and intelligence or the core tenants of his game. Smith is an extremely capable coverage linebacker that plays perfectly into where the NFL has headed in response to the RPO and spread-centric pass happy game, as defenses are living in the two-high safety, light box world, the value of "spear" 'spear' defenders, or the spine of a defense, is raised. Smith is the epitome of a modern linebacker in that sense. At the same time, he has the athleticism, technique and brute strength to match five-star, first round type running backs and silence their impact in the run game."[add]

Could DeAndre Hopkins Become a Raven?

After a report surfaced yesterday that the Arizona Cardinals plan to attempt to trade wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins this offseason, it didn't take long for the Ravens to be mentioned as a potential destination for the three-time Pro Bowler on social media.

"Despite issues with injuries and suspensions, Hopkins is still one of the more talented and technically sound wide receivers in the league, making this music to the ears of wide receiver needy teams across the NFL," Baltimore Beatdown’s Jake Louque wrote. "One franchise that firmly falls into that camp is the Baltimore Ravens, who would be in dereliction of their duties to not at least pick up the phone and inquire on this.

"There are difficult particulars to work out, such as Hopkins' cap hits of $30.75 million and $26.215 million over the next two respective years, as well as trade compensation that the Cardinals (who acquired Hopkins for little more than a song back in 2020) will be comfortable taking. The Ravens lack of a second-round pick, workable cap space, and long-term deal for Lamar Jackson all seem to be working against their favor here."

It's worth noting that the Ravens reportedly were interested in Hopkins in 2020 when he was on the trade block as a member of the Houston Texans.

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