In a perfect world, the Ravens like to reach contract extensions with their players well before they ever hit the open market. General Manager Ozzie Newsome has already gone on record saying he'd like to work out deals with some key players going into the final year of their contracts.
"We've always felt the best time to get a fair deal for the player and for the organization is to attack it a year ahead," Newsome said last month.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith is likely one of the top priorities.
Smith is heading into the final year of his rookie contract – a reported $6.9 million option that the team picked up before last season. The Ravens will get Smith at a relative bargain this year if he plays under that option, but the two sides could still work out a deal within the next few months to keep him in Baltimore long-term.
Talks have already started between the two sides, Smith said, and he would "absolutely" be open to that idea.
"We'd have to come to something that's reasonable," Smith said.
Working out an extension a year before the player hits free agency has benefits. The player gets the security of a long-term contract, while the team can sometimes get the player at a bargain.
"It's probably best for both sides to do it early because it guarantees you your money, and the team could get you a little bit cheaper," Smith said. "If you ball out this year, then my price would sky-rocket. My price right now would be lower.
"But that's a risk on them, too. They either have to offer that guaranteed money, or if I don't like it I have to decide to play out the year. It's a business-sense on both sides. It's kind of whatever you think is the smartest."
The Ravens have gone both routes in recent years.
The team worked out a six-year, $50 million extension with cornerback Lardarius Webb in 2012 going into the final year of his deal. Quarterback Joe Flacco, however, played out the duration of his rookie contract and cashed in with a six-year deal worth $120 million after winning the Super Bowl.
The different scenarios turned out to be the smart decisions for both players. Webb got the guaranteed money before tearing his ACL in the 2012 season, while Flacco capitalized on a historic playoff run with a record deal.
Smith could play out his contract and then test his value on the open market next offseason. This year's free-agency market has been friendly to cornerbacks – Darrelle Revis (five years, $70 million), Byron Maxwell (six years, $63 million), Antonio Cromartie (four years, $32 million) and Chris Culliver (four years, $32 million) all cashed in with big deals – and Smith could be in line for a similar payday.
The upcoming season is critical for the 26-year-old cornerback. He started last season as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but then a foot injury landed him on injured reserve after eight games.
He's shown that he can be a shutdown corner when healthy, and a standout year in 2015 would put a big price tag on him if decides to play out the duration of his contract.
"Everybody wants to get every dollar they can. It's a business. But some things matter more," Smith said. "For me, the team matters. Winning matters to me. Where I'm at matters. The people. With my decision, that's going to play a big factor. I've been here and they know me. That's going to play a huge factor."