The biggest, most expensive step of the Ravens offseason is done. Less than a week after franchise tagging Justin Madubuike, the Ravens have signed the defensive lineman to a four-year deal.

Madubuike is a first-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, and the Ravens rewarded him with a deal that’s reportedly worth $98 million ($24.5 million annually) and includes $75.5 million total in guarantees and $53.5 million at signing, according to ESPN.

On Monday, Madubuike, general manager Eric DeCosta and defensive coordinator Zach Orr gathered in Owings Mills to discuss the extension. Here are five takeaways from what they said:

This provides much-needed cap relief

Both DeCosta and Madubuike shared Monday that the goal has always been a long-term deal. That deal just didn’t get done, despite meetings between DeCosta and Madubuike’s agent Ben Renzin, before the franchise tag window ended.

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“We were close,” DeCosta said.

Ultimately, DeCosta had to use the tag, which meant Madubuike was getting at least $22.1 million.

Madubuike is still getting his $22.1 million — and then some. The difference the four-year deal makes is that the Ravens don’t have to account for all of that money until later years because they can convert some of it into bonuses and spread them out over the course of the deal.

For DeCosta, who said he always has the big picture in mind, that cost certainty allows him to figure out how to build the 2024 Ravens while also planning for the future. Because eventually he will have to pay the likes of Kyle Hamilton and account for the jump in Lamar Jackson’s cap hit. But for this year, he has some relief.

“We need all the help we can get, so yes, it helps,” DeCosta said. “Every little bit helps.”

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The deal came about quickly, following the tag. DeCosta said that’s because the negotiations came from a place of “respect.”

“This was a very easy deal to get done, in most cases,” DeCosta said.

From the Ravens’ standpoint, the deal looked even better after defensive tackle Christian Wilkins’ new contract was revealed as a four-year $110 million deal, according to ESPN.

The Ravens see Madubuike as one of the best players on the team

DeCosta has said nice things about many of the players who helped the Ravens to the AFC Championship. But he’s only signed a massive deal with one of them. That’s a big sign of the organization’s dedication to Madubuike, he said.

“Obviously, with a franchise quarterback and what those contracts look like — I’ve said this before — the landscape changes, so every deal you do is critically important in the grand scheme of things, and that’s why I think you all can get a sense for the feeling we have towards Justin that we were willing to commit to a contract like this,” DeCosta said. “I think [it] speaks the world for how we feel about him as a player and as a person.”

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DeCosta said they see Madubuike as one of the best players on the team, period.

As a scout, it’s difficult to see homegrown players develop into stars and leave, DeCosta said. For example, 2020 first-round draft pick Patrick Queen was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro linebacker this season and will likely leave, considering the Ravens’ cap situation. Seventh-round pick Geno Stone had the second-most interceptions in the league.

“The idea that you can draft a really good player, keep him for four years and watch him go play elsewhere is frustrating,” DeCosta said. “But this is the business we have chosen, and we’ll abide by those salary cap rules and hopefully make good decisions moving forward.”

And when you have a player as good as Madubuike, clearly, the Ravens thought going all in with him is and will be the right decision moving forward.

Orr’s defense will run through him

The benefit of promoting a defensive coordinator from within is that he’s familiar with his personnel. And as he sat next to Madubuike at the Ravens practice facility, Orr spoke glowingly of his first memory of Madubuike.

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“I remember training camp. It was the first padded practice,” Orr said. “We’re all amped up wanting to see what our team’s going to look like. It’s ones versus ones, and ‘Beeks’ [Madubuike] is out there. I’m like, ‘We have a rookie out there. OK. We’re about to see what’s going on.’ He struck the lineman [and made a] TFL [tackle for loss]. It was an explosive play, and I remember just that moment we looked [at each other] like, ‘This dude has a chance to be a great player.’”

He went on to describe Madubuike’s impact this past season, saying Madubuike played every position on the line — “the shade, the head-up zero, he played the three, played the four, and played the six. Sometimes he played the five” — and excelled in every area. His ability to pivot and to play different roles helped the Ravens defense with its changing fronts and versatile attack.

Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald might be gone, but Madubuike’s back, and Orr will continue to run the defensive front through Madubuike. Inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who wears the green dot, will be back on a massive contract of his own, and he is credited with quarterbacking the defense. But Madubuike seems to be viewed as an equally important piece, based on Monday’s press conference.

Madubuike hopes to be seen as a “force” and a “cornerstone” for the defense. With him there, the Ravens are feeling good about the defense’s future, despite the potential loss of key contributors.

“It’s big anytime you keep your best young talent. ... We feel really good about the defense and that we’re just now on the come [up],” DeCosta said.

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Madubuike isn’t changing that he’s always changing

When you ask Madubuike what changed for him this year that allowed him such success, he usually gives an unsatisfying response of things that don’t seem to account for the massive leap from one year to the next. He cites hard work, increased reps, sleep and attitude.

The thing is, Madubuike changed things, but he always changes things, so they don’t seem huge to him. Since high school, he has been interested in different methods that help him reach peak performance. He’s always asking questions and trying new things. Last year, opportunity and the results of his work collided in a perfect storm.

Orr and DeCosta are convinced that season wasn’t a one-off. Why? Because Madubuike continues to work and try new things with the same intensity he always has.

Now, Madubuike hopes young players will be the ones asking him questions.

“He’s a guy that’s gotten better every single year, and he’s a good example for the younger players who can see him and see his progression from 2020 to now,” DeCosta said.

Madubuike is already hoping for another one

Madubuike’s first reaction after finalizing the deal was to shed a few tears.

“I’m not going to lie,” Madubuike said.

This is Madubuike’s second contract with the Ravens. At 26, he potentially has the opportunity for several more contracts in his career. And he hopes they’re all with the Ravens.

“I plan on being here for hopefully my whole career,” Madubuike said. “I just love this organization.”

Madubuike cited everyone from the coaches to his teammates to the people in the cafeteria. He also joked that being with the Ravens gives him “free” lessons from outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith, who he previously trained with in paid sessions. He said Smith had helped his game evolve.

Madubuike hopes to take this contract and turn it into “continued greatness” that will hopefully “radiate” to his teammates so “good things can flourish.” And he hopes that happens soon.

“Because we have a goal in mind that we definitely fell short at this year,” Madubuike said. “And we’re hungry to get back to where we belong.”

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