Home > Uncategorized > Lardarius Webb – Pay the Man Now, Not Later

Lardarius Webb – Pay the Man Now, Not Later

One of the greatest things about the 2011 Ravens season was the joy of watching a young cornerback go from a guy who a lot of people outside of Baltimore  knew nothing about, to one of the best man to man cover corners in the NFL by the end of the season. The ball skills and short area quickness Webb possesses are nothing short of amazing, something that you won’t see on a lot of players. On top of all that his hands are just as good as many wide receivers, picking balls out of the air like they did in the days of “stickum” .

Webb seemed to have highlight reel interceptions week after week in critical situations, and appears to be fully recovered from ACL surgery that ended his 2009 campaign and hobbled him throughout the entire 2010 season where he admitted he was just a step slower than he normally is. Even without all his speed back he excelled in the nickel corner role and managed to get his hands on 9 balls intercepting two.

Many Ravens fans saw a possible star in the making, but had no idea Webb would play at an All Pro level while being matched up against the best of the best wide receivers week after week the entire season. It was almost as if you were watching a true shutdown corner in his prime, at an unbelievable level of play despite Webb’s youth and relative inexperience. Including the playoffs he picked off 8 passes and had an unbelievable 25 passes defended, and notched his first NFL touchdown Week 4 against the NY Jets. The player grading site ProfootballFocus had Webb ranked as the number 4 cornerback in the NFL, not allowing one single touchdown all year.

Before the AFC Championships many of the Patriots faithful had no idea who Webb was, and bristled at the notion of anyone, much less some “no name cornerback” covering their beloved Wes Welk-ah one on one in open space. Welk-ah had an unthinkable 122 receptions and over 1,500 yards leading up to that game, so the Patriots fans had good reason to boast and brag about how unstoppable he was. His final tally for the AFCC game?  Just 6 receptions for 53 yards and no touchdowns, and anyone who watched was probably wondering if he was even on the field most of the time as he was a non-factor.

Webb was matched up on Welker in the slot all day, one on one and had no problems staying step for step with Welker. The seemingly impossible task of stopping this catch machine that no one man could do was done, and done well. The world finally got to see what Ravens fans have been seeing for 17 games, as Webb did it yet again with a twisting reach back interception that completely swung the momentum the Patriots had at the time. The look on Tom Brady’s face was that of shock and disbelief when the play was over, and of one could read minds I’m sure it would have been something like “How in the hell…..”

So that brings us to this offseason, where Webb is currently a restricted free agent for the 2012 season. There is no doubt the Ravens will place a 1st round tender on Webb, forcing any team to give up a 1st round draft pick and a hefty contract to steal him away. But I am writing today that the brass in Owing’s Mills should avoid that situation immediately and start talking long term deal with Webb and his agent, to lock him up early.

The tender on a 1st rounder for 2012 is going to be almost $3 million, and a reasonable long term deal could have that cap number around the same amount or just a little bit higher with the uncapped league rules a thing of the past. Webb is clearly in the future plans, and he should never get anywhere near free agency or another team who could easily be willing to pony up a 1st rounder and contract for one of the best young corners in the game, forcing the Ravens to match.

One option they could use is the “franchise him and then work out a deal” scenario in 2013 while he is under the tag, like they did recently with Haloti Ngata. But why even let it get to that point?

About one of the only criticisms I have  of the Ravens front office is the dragging of their feet in getting major contracts done, the two prime examples being Chris McAlister and Terrell Suggs. Both were franchised and deals were not able to be worked out, and in the end they eventually ended up paying both a lot more than they wanted after all the back and forth. When you have elite players like that their value is only going to go up the more they play, as they enter their prime. Webb is no doubt entering that stage of his career and his price tag is only going to go up the closer he gets to free agency and the more spectacular plays he makes.

Webb plays a position of the utmost importance in the pass happy NFL, and he will only be 26 years old when the 2012 season starts. NFL owners all around the league will have the checkbook out and there will be a lot of zeros on the check they will be willing to write him if he ever sniffs free agency, or even with his availability under the top restricted free agent tender. For reference here are the latest contracts that top tier cornerbacks signed and how they break down. (per rotoworld)

Darrell Revis (NYJ) – 4 years $46 million with $32.5 guaranteed (signed 9/6/2010, age 25)

Jonathan Joseph (Hou) – 5 years $48.75 million with 23.5 million guaranteed (7/29/2011, age 27)

Leon Hall (Cin) – 5 years $42.375 million with $14 million guaranteed (signed 9/2/2011, age 25)

Brandon Flowers – 6 years $50.6 million $22 million guaranteed (signed 9/16/2011, age 25)

Nnamdi Asomugha – 5 years $60 million $25 million guaranteed (signed 7/29/2011, age 30)

As you can see there is a firm template in place and recently the market that has been established for top flight corners, with many large deals in the past year which is sometimes tough to find at certain positions. Again cornerback is such a high demand position these days teams are locking up their players before they even hit free agency, and of the listed players only Joseph and Asomugha were unrestricted free agents. And if the Bengals didn’t have to pay Leon Hall you can better believe they would have paid Joseph before he hit free agency, and in Asomugha’s case he was franchised twice before the Raiders let him walk in yet another botched player transaction.

Looking at these numbers the market rate is about $8 – $12 million per year, with around $25 million in guarantees. While Webb and his agent certainly won’t be able to argue he should get Revis type money, he could make a case that he deserves to be paid in line with the rest of the group. Both sides would have an advantage in getting a long term deal done sooner rather than later, with Webb gaining security against injury, and the Ravens getting a slight discount by not having competing bidders to drive up the price. I would think something in the 6 year $45-50 million range with a nice signing bonus around $25 million could get the deal done, and then the Ravens have another superstar locked up long term who can lock down one side of the defensive backfield.

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