Jimmy Smith rewards Ravens for their faith in him

When an extension is signed in the NFL, it's typically a reward for the player. When cornerback Jimmy Smith agreed to his new deal Tuesday, it was the Baltimore Ravens who were rewarded for putting their faith in him.

One of the top young cornerbacks in the NFL, Smith reportedly signed a four-year, $48 million extension, which is a relative bargain in the NFL these days. His $12 million average ranks fifth among cornerbacks, and his $21 million guaranteed money is 10th.

While no one should downplay such a huge investment, you have to wonder how much Smith would've commanded if he waited to reach free agency in 2016 or 2017. Could he have received $14 million per year like Patrick Peterson? Could he have exceeded Byron Maxwell's $25.5 million in guaranteed money?

"For me, it was never truly about being the highest-paid corner," Smith said. "I know I couldn't be that and be here just because of the talent. You have to pay other people."

Why did Smith want to stay so badly with the Ravens?

"They drafted me. They trusted me," Smith said. "Coming out of the draft, you guys read it. It made me feel some type of way."

It was four years ago when Smith was labeled a top-10 talent in the draft and a major character risk. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Smith flunked three drug tests at Colorado, and he informed one team that one was for misusing codeine. He also told teams about two alcohol-related arrests and an arrest for third-degree assault in a restaurant.

In a Journal Sentinel poll before the draft, 11 of 24 NFL personnel men said they wouldn't draft Smith in the first two rounds. The Ravens selected him with the No. 27 overall pick, a few spots after such busts as guard Danny Watkins and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

"For this organization to stand by me through everything that has happened to me up to this point, it means a lot," Smith said. "They had my back, so I'm staying here."

Smith and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, got what they wanted as well. The Ravens were expected to put the franchise tag on Smith in 2016, and they might have done it again in 2017.

So, Smith received his upfront money now instead of having to wait three years for it. And, by signing a four-year extension this offseason, Smith set himself up for another contract in 2020, when he is a free agent at the age of 31.

This extension was a major priority for the Ravens. Smith is arguably the Ravens' best defensive player and among the most valuable. When Smith went down with a season-ending foot injury, the Ravens went 5-4 the rest of the regular season and couldn't slow down Tom Brady when they needed to do so in the fourth quarter of the AFC divisional playoff game.

Over the past three weeks, coach John Harbaugh had several conversations with Smith about his commitment to remain in Baltimore.

"I think that was an important role in getting this done," general manager Ozzie Newsome said of the interaction between Harbaugh and Smith.

The biggest risk in investing in Smith is his injury history. He's only played more than 12 games in one of his four seasons. But the upside of Smith is worth the investment.

Smith has the size, speed and athletic ability that teams covet at cornerback. He's smart. And he can be one of the team's core leaders.

The Ravens have watched the leadership of the defense go from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Now, it's time for Smith to step up as part of the next generation.

"When you think of the Ravens, what do you think of? Defense," Smith said. "They put me back in here, meaning that I'm almost a cornerstone of the defense. That means everything."