Why the Ravens Made Such a Big Commitment to Tavon Young


Head Coach John Harbaugh interjected during Friday's press conference to cut right to the chase in the discussion about Tavon Young's new deal.

The Ravens just signed Young to a three-year contract extension that reportedly made him the richest slot cornerback in the NFL – over $27 million with cap hits around $8 million from 2020-2022.

It's a lot of money for a player who has started 17 career games and is primarily a slot corner.

"This is a big contract. This is a big number. This is a record-setting number," Harbaugh said.

"It's not something that you enter into lightly at all. … But the math works, and the math works because of who the player is, and we know this player."

So why did the Ravens make such an investment in Young? Mainly because of his consistency, character and versatility. They trust him, they know him. A fourth-round pick out of Temple in 2016, Young has come to embody what it means to be a Raven.

"He shows up every single day, and you know what you're going to get," Harbaugh said. "You're going to get everything he has, and that's really a lot."

Tavon was an immediate impact player in Baltimore. When injuries struck the cornerback corps in 2016, he stepped into a starting role as a rookie, covering the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Dez Bryant and more. He had some wins and losses, but he always fought.

In 2017, the Ravens expected Young to flourish by moving back into his natural position in the slot. But a torn ACL in training camp put that plan on hold.

It "broke" Young to miss an entire season, but the way Young attacked that rehab proved something to those at the Under Armour Performance Center.

"We look at what we think of the player and how he approaches his job day to day," General Manager Eric DeCosta said. "We see him in the building. Again, for me personally, seeing Tavon, watching him rehab, spoke volumes."

Last year, Young showed what he's capable of when it all comes together. He played in 15 games and notched 37 tackles, two sacks, five passes defensed, one interception and two scoop-and-scores. He did a little bit of everything and showed that he has a nose for the football.

"If you have a versatile player that can play in there, can cover receivers, but is also willing to blitz, also willing to go in there and make tackles against the run like this guy is, it's a big plus for you," Harbaugh said.

"We want to run a diverse defense. We want to bring guys, we want to cover guys, we want to change things up. You need versatile players that can do a lot, and that's Tavon."

Young said he measured in as the smallest defensive back at the Combine in 2016. "Oh, man! This is going to get tough," Young remembered thinking.

Yet the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Maryland native had plenty of toughness to match the NFL. He's always played bigger than his size, and last year, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale called him a "pit bull."

Young had his best season yet despite playing through a sports hernia injury for much of the year. It eventually got to be too much and forced him to sit out the playoff loss to the Chargers, and was operated on after the season.

"You can count on Tavon," Harbaugh said. "He was in pain all year with his groin situation, and yet he's going to find a way to get on the field and play, and play his best and play in a way that's winning football. So, the football character is also at a really high level."

While playing in the slot often doesn't get the notoriety of an outside "shutdown" cornerback, it can be easier at times to cover on an island. In the slot, there's a lot more traffic to maneuver through and a bigger emphasis on being a factor against the run.

Plus, the days have changed from when the best receivers always lined up outside. Now teams often bring some of their top weapons into the slot to try to create mismatches. The Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster, for example, ran a ton of his routes from the slot.

In Young, the Ravens feel they have a cornerback who can match up against anybody.

"Sometimes, I think it's tougher to play inside," Harbaugh said. "I think there's a lot more to know. There's a lot more to understand, all the different coverages and things like that, and it's become a very, very valuable position in this league."

Harbaugh said the Ravens played in their base defense with just four defensive backs (two safeties and two corners) just 16 percent of the time this year, and it's dropping. Opposing offenses often deploy at least three wide receivers. Thus, the slot cornerback position's value is only climbing.

The Ravens also know how much cornerbacks, in general, are prized in the pass-happy NFL, and they're willing to spend to maintain a defense that can compete (and win). Instead of allowing Young to potentially test the market next offseason, they invested a year early.

"I think the secondary is critically important. I've been here 23 years, and the fastest way to lose a game is to play poorly in the secondary," DeCosta said. "We've been blessed to have a lot of good corners play here over the years. This is a guy that really compares to all those guys."

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