Ravens couldn't risk losing Daryl Smith

The Baltimore Ravens probably had to give more than what they initially expected to re-sign middle linebacker Daryl Smith. Given what was left in free agency, they had little choice in the matter.

The Ravens reached an agreement with Daryl Smith on a four-year, $16.1 million deal, removing one of the last viable options left in a dwindling pool of free-agent middle linebackers.

If the Ravens hadn't retained Smith, they would've had to turn to Brandon Spikes, who has struggled with injuries and in pass coverage. There was really no one left after D'Qwell Jackson (Colts), Karlos Dansby (Browns), Jon Beason (Giants), Jameel McClain (Giants) and Wesley Woodyard (Titans) all signed.

“There are a lot of smiles around the building today after we got a commitment from Daryl Smith to stay a Raven,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He fills a need for us at a high level. Just look at his production last season, plus he gave us leadership and maturity. He’s tough, he’s consistent, he’s intelligent, and he brings his lunch pail to work every day.”

Before free agency began, many projected Smith would get a shorter deal because he's 32. The market changed when Dansby (32) and Jackson (30) both received four-year contracts. Age has to be a small concern. Smith started off strong in 2013 with an average of nearly nine tackles in his first nine games. His productivity tailed off in the second half, when he averaged six tackles over his last seven games.

The Ravens couldn't risk losing Smith and having another hole in the defense. The team already needs a free safety and nickelback. The Ravens didn't want to have a weak spot in the middle when they're already putting their faith in Arthur Brown to step up into a starting role this season.

Smith also earned every bit of this deal. After Rolando McClain abruptly retired, the Ravens were lucky McClain was still available in June. He was signed to a one-year, $1.125 million contract. It was a prove-it type year for Smith following an injury-marred 2012 season -- and he did.

In his first season with the Ravens, Smith ended up starting all 16 games for the Ravens, missing just two defensive snaps. He set new career-highs in tackles (123), sacks (5) and interceptions (three). His 19 pass breakups were a franchise record for linebackers, more than Ray Lewis ever had in a season.

Keeping Smith gives the Ravens a good balance in the middle. The Ravens are hoping the 11-year veteran linebacker can mentor Brown, a second-round pick from a year ago who only played on passing downs. With Jameel McClain gone, Brown is expected to start alongside Smith.

The Ravens are now set to bring back five of their top seven tacklers from last year's No. 12 defense.