Ravens' Jimmy Smith might be best CB in 2016 free agency

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was ranked as the 12th-best player in next year's free-agent class by ESPN's Field Yates. What's even more impressive is Smith getting rated as the No. 1 cornerback, a position that commands top dollar in the NFL.

It's just hard to believe the Ravens will allow Smith to get to free agency in 11 months. There are likely two options with Smith: The Ravens are either going to sign him to an extension or they're going to put the franchise tag on him. Smith, 26, is too valuable to let walk. He's got the combination of size and athleticism that teams covet at cornerback, and he's entering the prime of his career.

The Ravens showed how much they wanted to keep Smith in 2015 when they exercised a fifth-year option that pays him $6.898 million this year. The franchise tag is going to be steep -- it was $13.1 million for cornerbacks this year -- which increases the urgency for the Ravens to sign Smith to an extension.

The starting point for any negotiations with Smith is going to be what Byron Maxwell received from the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. Maxwell signed a six-year deal that averages $10.5 million per season and includes $25.5 million guaranteed. He's a good comparison because he's similar to Smith in terms of age, size and performance.

Smith has to be the Ravens' priority in what will be an important free-agent class for the team. Notable Ravens players who are entering the final years of the their contract include guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele; kicker Justin Tucker; punter Sam Koch; safety Will Hill; and linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

The Ravens were reminded of Smith's importance when he went down with a season-ending foot injury in the middle of the season. Without Smith, the Ravens were 5-4 the rest of the season (which includes the game at Cincinnati in which Smith was hurt) and couldn't stop the New England Patriots' Tom Brady when it counted in a divisional playoff game.

No team knows the value of Smith more than the Ravens.