Culture over cash: Ravens beating odds in keeping All-Pro talent

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Ravens sign Stanley to 5-year extension (0:41)

Jamison Hensley breaks down why the Ravens signed left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a five-year, $98.75M extension. (0:41)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens announced they had signed Ronnie Stanley to a five-year deal Friday, this was far more than a celebration of keeping the best left tackle in the NFL. It represented another victory lap for the Ravens' culture.

It's remarkable that Baltimore was able to sign two All-Pro players -- Stanley and Marlon Humphrey -- to long-term deals in the same month. It's unreal that the Ravens were able to retain both without making them the highest-paid players at their positions.

Stanley and Humphrey believe this is the start of a special time in Baltimore. With Lamar Jackson in his second full season as a starting quarterback, there's a feeling inside the locker room that the Ravens are beginning an extended run as a Super Bowl contender.

For Stanley and Humphrey, the top priority wasn't about breaking the bank. It was more important that they didn't break up this team.

"We all know we’re a family here," Stanley said. "I think all the guys are on the same page on what we’re trying to build here in Baltimore and that’s long-term success."

Ravens officials faced an untimely predicament this year when Laremy Tunsil shattered the market value for offensive tackles in April with a three-year, $66 million contract and Jalen Ramsey did the same at cornerback in September with a five-year, $100 million deal. Tunsil and Ramsey used the leverage of being traded to their teams before signing a long-term deal and knew neither the Rams nor the Texans would allow them to walk.

Tunsil's $22 million-per-year average was $5.5 million higher than that of any other left tackle, and Ramsey's $20 million-per-year average was nearly $3 million more than that of any cornerback. Baltimore knew there was no way it could keep this team intact if it surpassed these deals. So, the Ravens offered Humphrey and Stanley deals that fell just below top of the market -- and crossed their fingers.

On Oct. 1, Humphrey signed a five-year, $97.5 million extension ($19.5 million per season). On Friday, Stanley agreed to a five-year, $98.75 million extension ($19.75 million per year).

“For me, being the highest paid never really was a factor," Humphrey said earlier this month. "The biggest thing for me was just staying a Raven. I remember when I first got here, me and [wide receiver] Chris Moore used to joke around saying that we’re Ravens for life. And it’s a very good feeling to actually be one.”

When Eric DeCosta took over for Ozzie Newsome as Ravens general manager in January 2019, he emphasized that he wanted to retain young talent before those players reached free agency.

The month of March has long been a frustrating period for the organization. Limited by cap space, the Ravens couldn't come close to outbidding teams for the likes of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, center Ryan Jensen, guard Kelechi Osemele, offensive tackle Rick Wagner and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

In his 20 months as general manager, DeCosta has signed nearly a dozen players to extensions, including kicker Justin Tucker and cornerback Marcus Peters. But the biggest achievement was holding on to a top defensive playmaker in Humphrey and Jackson's blindside protector in Stanley.

"I’m proud of the fact that guys want to be here, for sure," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I’m proud of the fact that guys want to come here. That’s kind of been established for quite a period of time. We’re just trying to do things the right way."

Signing Stanley and Humphrey was just the first significant step in keeping this core of Ravens players together. This offseason, Baltimore might have to use the franchise tag on one of its top pass-rushers (Yannick Ngakoue appears to be the prime candidate over Matthew Judon).

Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, has outplayed his rookie contract and could command a new deal over the next two years. Tight end Mark Andrews and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. will be free agents in 2022.

"I feel the Ravens do a really good job of picking out good talent and trying to keep that culture the way it’s always been," Stanley said. "It’s just Ravens football."