Roquan Smith has embodied a Raven since arriving in a midseason trade. Now he's going to be a Raven for a long time.
On Wednesday morning, Smith inked a five-year deal worth a reported $100 million, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
"Since he's been here, Roquan has been a leader on and off the field, impressing us with his attitude and desire to be great player and teammate every day," General Manager Eric DeCosta said in a statement. "There is certainly a standard of defense in Baltimore, and Roquan has proven that he can surpass that lofty mark."
Smith was in the final year of his rookie contract. He had been looking for a long-term extension from the Chicago Bears, but after they did not offer him a contract he found suitable, Smith made a trade request prior to the season.
The Bears originally told Smith he was still in their long-term plans but dealt him to the Ravens for a reported second-round pick before the Nov. 1 deadline. Smith earned the deal he was looking for in Baltimore, which would make him the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history with a $20 million average.
Smith represented himself in contract negotiations, and he said talks started up in mid-December, about six weeks after the Ravens traded for him. He and General Manager Eric DeCosta would talk during players' off days and exchange emails. Smith said DeCosta "kept his word."
"It wasn't an easy process, but I have the utmost respect for Eric," Smith said. "I think he's a very fair, honest guy."
Smith could have waited until the season was over and become an unrestricted free agent, but he wanted to stay. Plus, Smith expressed feeling respect, and perhaps some loyalty, to DeCosta for trading for him.
"That meant a lot to me, like knowing that someone that actually came out to get me," Smith said. "Getting out in free agency, I maybe could have gotten more, but I'm happy where I'm at and I want to be on a team that has a chance to compete year in and year out to hoist the Lombardi. So that's my main goal, and that's my main focus. I knew this place was a place where I can do that year in and year out."
Smith has been everything the Ravens could have wanted and more. On the field, he has elevated their defense to championship-level. Before Smith arrived, the Ravens ranked 20th in points per game allowed and 24th in yards per game allowed. They rank second in both categories since, giving up just 14.7 points per game.
Smith has 86 tackles, two sacks and one interception in nine games as a Raven. He finished the regular season with the third-most tackles in the league (169) and was voted to his first Pro Bowl. This week, he also made the NFLPA's inaugural player-voted All-Pro team, and was voted the team's MVP by local reporters despite playing in only nine games. He did that all, and he's still just 25 years old.
After Smith agreed to the deal Tuesday, he went into a meeting with his fellow linebackers and didn't say a word. It wasn't until Patrick Queen saw the news on Twitter did he know.
"We were like, 'You weren't going to tell anybody?!'" Queen said. "Everybody's extremely happy for him because of the type of guy he is. ... He earned it. He just does everything right. [He is] a great guy, runs to the ball extremely hard every play, plays extremely hard, he communicates. He does everything well, he's a great guy outside. So, there's nobody more deserving than him."
Asked about Smith's leadership, Head Coach John Harbaugh said Smith is one of the best he's seen.
"He is the exact type of person, player, leader that you want to have in your program, the kind of guy who is a core part of a great defense," Harbaugh said.
In 2019, the Ravens signed cornerback Marcus Peters to an extension late in the season after acquiring him at the trade deadline. In 2020, Baltimore did not re-sign outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue after he was added mid-season. It was clear early on after Smith arrived, with the way he played individually and elevated those around him, that he was going to be a good long-term fit.
Smith made an instant impact as a run-stopper and playmaker in the defense, and he's had some of his best games against AFC North foes. Now he goes into the playoff opener against the Bengals with some swagger. Asked about Cincinnati's complains that Smith's physical play crossed the line, the linebacker just smiled.
"See you Sunday night," he said.