Linebacker Za'Darius Smith backs out of deal with Baltimore Ravens, source says

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There won't be a reunion between outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and the Baltimore Ravens, after all.

Smith became the latest NFL player to back out on an agreement Thursday, when he decided not to sign a four-year, $35 million deal with Baltimore, a source told ESPN. So, Smith becomes a free agent and the Ravens' search for a pass-rusher continues.

This marks the third time in this free-agent period that a player has changed his mind on an agreement. Outside linebacker Randy Gregory and running back J.D. McKissic also flipped on deals this past week. Gregory went from the Dallas Cowboys to the Denver Broncos, and McKissic went from the Buffalo Bills to the Washington Commanders.

On Wednesday afternoon, it looked like Smith was returning to Baltimore, where he was drafted in the fourth round in 2015. A source told ESPN that the Ravens believed they had reached a verbal agreement on a deal that averaged $8.75 million per season, which seemed like a great value for a two-time Pro Bowl player.

A few hours later, a source said Smith expressed second thoughts after two pass-rushers had their big-money deals announced: Von Miller (six years, $120 million for an average of $20 million per season) with the Bills and Chandler Jones (three years, $51 million for an average of $17 million per season). The Ravens tried to rework the deal, but the sides couldn't reach an agreement, the source added. Baltimore and Smith aren't expected to resume talks.

Questions about Smith's deal started Thursday morning because the Ravens hadn't announced the agreement. When asked why the team had yet to acknowledge Smith's deal, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta was evasive, saying "I think over the coming days we'll have more to say on other moves that we make."

The Ravens didn't waste any time for their next reunion. The Ravens reached a three-year deal with nose tackle Michael Pierce, the team announced.

Pierce, a three-year starter from 2017 to 2019 for the Ravens, started last season for the Minnesota Vikings. He will fill the void left by Brandon Williams, who is a free agent.

Smith, 29, was cut by the Green Bay Packers on Monday after three seasons. He developed into one of the NFL's top pass-rushers in 2019 and 2020, when he totaled 26 sacks.

But Smith missed the last 16 games of the regular season after undergoing back surgery. He came back for the NFC divisional playoff game, a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Now, the Ravens will look to add another veteran pass-rusher. Baltimore's experienced edge rushers -- Odafe Oweh, Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson -- have a combined 27 career sacks. The Ravens haven't had a player reach double digits in sacks since Terrell Suggs in 2017.

The top available pass-rushers are: Jadeveon Clowney, Jerry Hughes, Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul. Baltimore could also re-sign Justin Houston, who recorded 4.5 sacks for the Ravens last season. Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter could also be available in a trade.

NFL Network was first to report that Smith chose not to sign the deal.