OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens spent $56.75 million in guaranteed money on their defense in free agency. The Ravens used their first four draft picks this year on defensive players.
This type of hefty investment has led to heightened expectations from safety Tony Jefferson, one of the newest additions to the bulked-up Baltimore defense that finished No. 7 in the NFL last season.
“We got a great defense that this front office put together,” Jefferson told NFL Network on Tuesday. “We have an opportunity to be legendary.”
That’s a bold statement considering the history of the Ravens, who fielded one of the best defenses ever in the NFL 17 years ago. In winning the Super Bowl in 2000, Baltimore allowed the fewest points (165) and rushing yards (970) in a 16-game season.
This offseason, the Ravens devoted most of their resources to improve a defense that suffered a late-season collapse. Baltimore was the best defense for the first 13 weeks of the season in 2016, holding teams to 296.1 yards per game. But the Ravens gave up an average of 400 yards in the final quarter of the season, when they lost three of their last four games to fall out of playoff contention.
In free agency, Baltimore signed Jefferson, the top available safety; re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams, the No. 1 free agent in ESPN’s rankings; and brought in Brandon Carr, a nine-year starting cornerback. In the draft, the Ravens added cornerback Marlon Humphrey, pass-rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams and defensive end Chris Wormley in the first three rounds.
“I don’t want to overstate the expectations, but I’m not afraid to do that, really,” coach John Harbaugh said after the draft. “I expect these guys to be great. I know the guys believe that, and they expect the same thing.”
Surprisingly, the Ravens have only finished one season with the top-ranked defense in the league. Baltimore’s 2006 defense helped the franchise to its best regular-season record at 13-3.
Strong defenses have usually led to strong years for Baltimore. In nine seasons in which the Ravens have had a top-five defense, they have averaged 10 regular-season victories and reached the postseason seven times.
“I’m chasing a ring. I want to be on a legendary defense,” Jefferson said. “I know this team, this organization is built off the defense. I felt like I had a great opportunity to reach my goals for that. What the front office has done just verified my decision to be even better.”