Bigger question with Jimmy Smith's option

The Baltimore Ravens picked up the fifth-year option on cornerback Jimmy Smith well before the May 3 deadline, according to ESPN's Field Yates.

This was never in doubt because coach John Harbaugh said at last month's NFL owners meetings that the Ravens would exercise it. The real question is whether Smith will play the 2015 season under that option salary.

“We are hopeful that we can sign Jimmy long-term," Harbaugh said in late March. "That will be our goal.”

In 2013, Smith lived up to the expectations of being the No. 27 overall pick after a couple of up and down seasons. He not only emerged as the team's top cornerback in his first full season as a starter but he ranked among the best in the AFC North.

The key to Smith's development was staying healthy and gaining confidence. He made two interceptions and broke up 16 passes while limiting some of the best receivers in the league: Cincinnati's A.J. Green, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown and Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.

The option will pay Smith somewhere between $6.5 million and $6.9 million, the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, with the top three excluded. Once the Ravens exercised the option, Smith's fifth-year pay in 2015 is guaranteed for injury. If he’s on the roster at the beginning of the 2015 league year, it’s fully guaranteed.

The Ravens would like to reach an extension with Smith because he's young (he turns 26 in July) and he's going to be hitting the prime years of his career soon. There's an added incentive to reduce that $6 million-plus cap number, but the Ravens have dealt with bigger financial burdens (Lardarius Webb's cap number is $10.5 million this season).

Jimmy Smith, though, isn't the Ravens' priority when it comes to extensions. Wide receiver Torrey Smith is entering the final year of his contract, so he's currently first on the pecking order.

The Ravens ideally would like to sign Jimmy Smith and Torrey Smith both to long-term deals this year. If they can't sign either one, the Ravens know they can keep both around for the 2015 season if they use the franchise tag on Torrey Smith and let Jimmy Smith play out his option year.

This is an enviable situation for the Ravens to have. No one would've envisioned the Ravens picking up this option during the 2012 season, when Jimmy Smith couldn't beat out Cary Williams or Corey Graham for a starting job. Then, in two critical end zone plays against the San Francisco 49ers, Smith helped the Ravens win a Super Bowl and turned around his career in the process.