Jimmy Smith is really starting to play cornerback in the NFL like the experts envisioned he would back when he was drafted in the 1st Round in 2011. That’s why
the Ravens picked up the fifth-year option of Smith’s rookie contract worth around $6.5 million, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. His salary is determined by the average of the 25 highest-paid corners, with the top three excluded.
The news doesn’t come as a huge surprise since Head Coach John Harbaugh said last month that the team planned on picking up the fifth-year option before the May 3 deadline. Otherwise, Smith’s contract would have expired after this season.
Pretty cool stuff. For Smith it’s great because (a) he knows the Ravens really want him around, and (b) he gets a preview version of a bigger payday. For the Ravens it’s great because (a) they know they “hit” on picking Smith 27th overall in 2011, and (b) they have an even better chance now of signing Smith to an extension well beyond 2015.
As Sarah Ellison noted at the Ravens NFL.com site, “The 2011 first-round pick emerged as one of the Ravens’ top defenders last year, imposing his big body (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) and athleticism on opposing receivers. Smith, 25, started all 16 games, notching 58 tackles, 15 passes defensed and two interceptions.”
He stood toe-to-toe with some of the best receivers the league has to offer, limiting the likes of A.J. Green, Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown and Brandon Marshall. Lardarius Webb sees himself and Smith emerging into one of the NFL’s “great duos.”
“In 2013, Smith lived up to the expectations of being the No. 27 overall pick after a couple of up and down seasons,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “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.”
“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.”
It’s got a little bit of a Hollywood rags-to-riches feel to it, this current saga of Jimmy Smith, but if you really watched him closely in college or his rookie year with the Ravens, you could see and feel his thoroughbred-like superiority in athletic terms. You also knew he had a little bit of a bad-boy image back in school, and that maybe it would take at least a year for him to acclimate to the regular routine and the film study required to stay or play well in the NFL.
Also, if you remember, Smith sprained his ankle on the very first play of the season’s opening game in 2011. The nagging nature of that injury really hindered his progress that year. Yes, there were some doubts about his coverage technique, but it’s hard to practice well when you can’t count upon your normal footspeed or ability to make sharp cuts. So we waited…and we waited… and I honestly don’t feel his ankle was fully recovered until the following offseason.
Meanwhile, a guy who’s still technically a Raven (and about the same age as Jimmy Smith) is heading in the opposite direction of success.
Yeah, Rolando McClain is back in the news— a guy with all the natural talent in the world, but unlike Jimmy Smith, he just can’t seem to get himself right.
Baltimore has reportedly activated McClain from the reserve/retired list, which means he officially has come out of retirement.
The activation could simply be the first step to cutting McClain and allowing him to pursue his career with another team. Or, this could be a move that allows him to participate in the Ravens offseason program, get into shape and the team can monitor whether he can contribute this season.
There was a time when a lot of professional evaluators thought Rolando would emerge as one of the best inside linebackers in the game today. You saw flashes of that when he was with Oakland— unfortunately, you also saw all the extra crap he brought to his team and his personal life. He hasn’t even played a game since 2012. The Ravens gave him some kind of workout attention the other day. They still own his rights even though Rolando “retired” last year after being released by the Ravens in training camp.
I feel terrible saying it, but I wouldn’t waste my time with Rolando McClain. He may talk the talk right now but he has consistently shown in his young life an absolutely frustrating lack of attention to detail or preparation—and that’s just speaking football-wise. The other problem is he just doesn’t seem emotionally mature enough to exhibit predictable behavior, whether that is with regard to teammates, coaches, family, friends or even strangers.
He can grow from his past—but I’m not sure he even wants to change.
I hope he proves me wrong and gets his life in order—and even finds a new job in the NFL. I just don’t see the risk of volatility that comes along with his game as a good fit for Harbaugh’s Ravens.