The Baltimore Ravens had themselves a pretty good weekend. Not only did they watch the Cincinnati Bengals get blown out by the Cleveland Browns, thereby ensuring them a temporary hold on the outright lead in the AFC North, they also acquired a star defender in the form of Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith.
Smith, a former top-10 draft pick back in 2018, currently leads in the NFL in tackles and has two interceptions, two and a half sacks, three passes defensed, and four tackles for loss. He also had a contract that expires after this season.
The fact that they were unable to get quarterback Lamar Jackson signed to an extension this offseason could potentially greatly impair their ability to retain Smith beyond this season, however, so they will undoubtedly have to use the franchise tag on Jackson to prevent him from hitting the open market.
While there are obviously no official details, the belief is that the end point for negotiations between Jackson and the Ravens came down not to dollar amounts but guarantees. He wanted a fully-guaranteed contract like that the Browns gave Deshaun Watson. Every other team that isn’t the Browns is trying really hard not to give any players such deals.
The problem is that teams are only allowed to franchise or transition tag one player per offseason. As Mike Florio notes for Pro Football Talk, another curious factor is the fact that both Jackson and Smith are their own representation.
Jackson has already previously stated that he would not negotiate in-season, even though the Ravens are a team that has proven time and again that they are very much willing to do so. It is not known if Baltimore and Smith could possibly work out an extension before the season is over.
It is worth reminding that that is something they did pull off a few years ago when they acquired cornerback Marcus Peters. They acquired him in mid-October, 2019 via trade, and then signed him to an extension in late December.
Something similar could, in theory, happen with Smith. But what if it doesn’t? The Ravens gave up second- and fifth-round picks to get him. That’s not an insignificant investment, and it would be quite a price for a one-year rental. Or rather half a year. If one of them isn’t signed by the tag deadline, the one who doesn’t get tagged wouldn’t have much motivation not to wait and explore the open market
Knowing the Ravens, it is very likely that they have every intention to get Smith under contract before he hits free agency, on whatever timeline that occurs. But things can always go wrong. And players who represent themselves are less predictable. Who would have imagined a year ago that Jackson would not be signed to an extension by now?