The Baltimore Ravens currently sit at 4-5, and are staring down the barrel of another mediocre finish to the 2018 season. The fact of the matter is that even in they are able to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday to jump to 5-5, many of the questions Baltimore are asking themselves now will still not be answered.
Will Flacco be with the team beyond this season? Will John Harbaugh stay on as head coach? What direction will the organization look to take if they miss the playoffs for a fourth season in a row?
None of these are probably going to be answered with any certainty in the near future, but they do cause other branching questions to pop up, such as who on the current roster should stick around if the reported rebuild does take place. There are a few mainstays who will be sticking around, such as Marlon Humphrey, Ronnie Stanley and several promising rookies that have shown their abilities through the first half of the season.
Beyond that, plenty of questions and dilemmas arise around aging veterans who may not want to hang around for a potential multi-year rebuilding project, and young players entering their prime who may be seeking lucrative contracts. From a team perspective, it also makes sense to be somewhat selective in who they’d like to bring back.
They’re currently facing that impending decision with a few players, including some high profile starters such as C.J. Mosley. One of the more under the radar free agents that could prove to be important is pass rusher Za’Darius Smith.
The fourth year player out of Kentucky is enjoying the best season of his career, having already posted 5.5 sacks through 9 games. This matches his career high, and his strong start to the year makes a double digit sack season a strong possibility when it’s all said and done.
In a recent article calling Smith Baltimore’s most improved player, Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton lays out the sack artist’s case for being so, and why the impending free agent deserves to be considered for a new contract with the team:
Za’Darius Smith is headed for a huge payday on the open market in March. For the first time in his four-year career, Smith is playing more than 50 percent of the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive snaps, and he’s capitalizing on the extra time. He’s already matched his single-season high in sacks (5.5) and leads the Ravens in quarterback hits (13). The Ravens may want to think about re-signing him to keep a strong group of pass-rushers together. Smith, along with Terrell Suggs—pending his decision to return—Tim Williams and Matt Judon would rotate as one of the league’s top pass-rushing cores. The Kentucky product has increased his production with more opportunity. Smith shouldn’t be a consistent starter, but he’s effective in his role. At this rate, the 26-year-old will push for a double-digit-sack season.
It’s not a bad case at all, but there are plenty of factors to consider in a situation like this. The first and most obvious one is that Baltimore has been here before.
The old adage is that free agency is fool’s gold, and a complementary sentiment to that is that the same could be said about contract year performance boosts. Say what you will about Baltimore’s front office in the last half decade, but some of the smarter moves they’ve made have been staying away from that exact type of player.
Paul Kruger, Danell Elellerbe, and Pernell McPhee are all prime examples of players who have gone elsewhere and flopped. This also isn’t to say that the Ravens haven’t handed out multiple bad contracts to hometown players.
Considering this, making a big investment into a player like Smith may not be the smart move to make here. His contributions this season have been significant and they should definitely be appreciated.
Having said that, they should be appreciated for what they likely are; contributions all the same, but still likely inflated by a contract year bump. Put simply, if it’s worth asking whether a consistent player such as Mosley is worth bringing back (it is worth asking), then it shouldn’t even be a conversation surrounding Smith.
He’ll get paid, and he definitely earned every penny, but with the direction the Ravens are going, it probably shouldn’t be by them. If Smith goes to break the bank on the open market more power to him, but barring a late season team-MVP like surge, there’s little he can do to prove he’s deserving of the massive investment he’ll be seeking.