Legion of Big Bucks: Ravens spending $58 million on secondary

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Earl Thomas was asked about his excitement level to play in the Baltimore Ravens' secondary after being a part of the Seattle Seahawks' "Legion of Boom."

"I just have to get used to the guys, man," Thomas said. "We have to get in the lab and go to work. I can’t harp on the ‘LOB.’ That’s in the past."

Thomas' present is a Baltimore secondary that lacks a catchy nickname but has been bestowed an investment unlike any other in the NFL.

The Ravens are spending $58 million on their top six defensive backs this year. Baltimore signed Thomas ($22 million with base salary and signing bonus combined), extended the contract of nickelback Tavon Young (a total of $11 million base salary and signing bonus), exercised the option for cornerback Brandon Carr ($6 million) and brought back Jimmy Smith ($9.5 million), Tony Jefferson ($8 million) and Marlon Humphrey ($1.542 million).

In terms of salary cap, the Ravens' secondary has combined for a league-high $56.7 million salary-cap figure, according to ESPN's Roster Management System. That accounts for 30 percent of Baltimore's entire cap.

Given this price tag, the Ravens are expecting this defensive backfield to be among the league's best. Baltimore is essentially returning last season's fifth-ranked pass defense but with what many believe is an upgrade at free safety. When healthy, Thomas has shown more range and playmaking ability than Eric Weddle.

The Ravens' schedule explains why first-year general manager Eric DeCosta has opened up the wallet for the secondary. Baltimore is facing four of the top seven quarterbacks in passing yards (Ben Roethlisberger, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff and Tom Brady) as well as Russell Wilson (third-highest passer rating), Deshaun Watson (coming off first Pro Bowl) and Baker Mayfield (27 touchdown passes).

The Ravens will need Smith to quiet Odell Beckham Jr. like he has done in the past. They'll want Humphrey to go stride for stride with A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins. They'll look for Thomas to cover the middle of the field when Tyreek Hill goes deep.

This is as deep, talented and physical as any secondary under coach John Harbaugh, who has envisioned this for a long time. There were too many playoff games against Brady and Peyton Manning in which the Ravens started Frank Walker or Rashaan Melvin at cornerback because of injuries and went with Kendrick Lewis and Will Hill at safety because of cap limitations.

There will be additional pressure on the secondary to stick with receivers to help the pass rush get to quarterbacks. The Ravens lost 15.5 sacks when Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith signed elsewhere in free agency. Baltimore is expected to add a veteran pass-rusher in free agency, and the Ravens can go from a bigger (but more expensive) splash with Kansas City's Justin Houston to a cheaper alternative in Green Bay's Nick Perry.

In an age when teams are throwing the ball more than ever before, the Ravens have prided themselves at being among the best in slowing down the big-play passing attacks. Since Harbaugh became coach in 2008, Baltimore leads the NFL in lowest passer rating allowed (79.3).

Over the span, the Ravens have held teams to the fourth-fewest passing yards (218.6 per game) and have recorded the second-most interceptions (226). The only defense to pick off more passes was the Seattle Seahawks and Thomas' Legion of Boom.

“One thing I knew coming here, I knew I was going to be on a great defense,” Thomas said. “Defense is going to win you championships, so that was all I needed to know.”