Originally written on Ravens Football Machine  |  Last updated 3/9/12

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 22: Lardarius Webb #21 of the Baltimore Ravens returns a kickoff during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Colts defeated the Ravens 17-15. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

Amazingly, cornerback Lardarius Webb is a hot commodity in the NFL right now...

I say "amazingly" because Webb's coverage skills have suddenly exploded upon the NFL's charts like a Stevie Wonder record in the '60's.... prior to now, nobody even seemed to know who Webb was, at 5-10, 182 in his 4th year out of Nicholls State...

The three-year veteran was the Ravens best cornerback and earned Pro Bowl consideration during his  past season that included five interceptions and 68 tackles. Webb also shone on the biggest stages, logging three interceptions in the playoffs.

He’s no longer flying under the radar.

The former third-round draft pick out of Nicholls State is a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Ravens are interested in signing him to a long-term contract rather than applying a tender and risking that another team won’t go after him.

Also, locking him up with a contract extension potentially puts the Ravens in a position to get the best deal for themselves.

Garrett Downing of Ravens.com got this comment out of Ozzie:

“I think it would be best for this organization,” General Manager Ozzie Newsome said last month about getting a deal done with Webb. “The sooner you strike, the better deal you can get for yourself.”

Waiting until next year to work out a contract extension could be a risk for the Ravens, especially if Webb matches his production from last season. Another five-interception year would likely make Webb a hot commodity as an unrestricted free agent and he might command a contract that the Ravens can’t afford.

With big contracts likely coming to running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco, cap space next year could be tight to sign Webb at top cornerback money. But if he signs an extension now, then it likely won’t be in the same range as some of the NFL’s elite corners like Darrelle Revis or Champ Bailey.

He also might be inclined to sign a long-term deal now, as he’s coming off the best season of his career. 

If the Ravens can’t agree to a contract extension with him before free agency opens on Tuesday, then they’ll likely have to give Webb a high tender – first or second round – to make sure another team doesn’t scoop him up.

In order to sign Webb away from the Ravens, the new team would have to give the Ravens a draft pick that corresponds with the tender, and then make a contract to offer to Webb that the Ravens couldn’t match.

It’s a lot to give up,  even for an emerging player with Webb’s talent.

“This league covets draft picks,” Newsome said. “And so, in order to go after a restricted guy, No. 1, you have to give a number now that’s something that I won’t match, or we won’t match as a team. And then you’ve got to also give up a significant draft choice, because we would put some numbers on there that would make it prohibitive for people.”

All of which is a nice way of saying the Ravens want to hold on to Webb

The Ravens really need to re-sign Webb. His play last year was the beginning of a great career, and if they wait any longer to re-sign him it could get even more costly. He had breakout performances in the playoffs and (barring injury) will only continue to build. He was by far the most underrated CB in the game, and will stay that way until he has had consecutive seasons like 2011. It got to the point where teams stopped throwing his way because he had it locked down. That's exactly what the Ravens need, and they haven't had that good of a CB for a while (think Chris McAllister). Not keeping Webb would be very costly to the Ravens defense.

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