OWINGS MILLS — The haggling between starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain and the Baltimore Ravens finally culminated in an acceptable compromise Friday afternoon.
McClain signed a three-year contract worth $10.5 million after experiencing a sluggish market in free agency at his position.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound former undrafted free agent had offers from at least two other teams and visited the Denver Broncos, but always preferred to remain with the defending AFC North champion Ravens.
“It’s an honor to be back and be part of this organization, to be able to represent these fans, this city,” McClain said. “It’s a good time for me and my family right now.”
McClain has started all but one of the Ravens’ games over the past two seasons, piling up 155 tackles, two sacks and one interception during that span.
However, being an unrestricted free agent and contributing heavily to the NFL’s third-ranked defense as their second-leading tackler last season didn’t trigger a bidding war for McClain.
“Of course, it was frustrating,” McClain said. “To be a person that believes in taking things into control, I work hard, I put my heart into everything that I do because that’s what I can control. But free agency is something that you can’t control and it shakes out the way that it shakes out. It definitely was frustrating, but it was what it was.”
McClain has the perspective of someone who has never been handed anything in his life.
He was homeless for a year growing up in Philadelphia, living with his family at a Salvation Army shelter. He’s the first member of his family to graduate from college.
“To be able to go from the bottom literally in every sense of the word to now being here, it’s a blessing,” McClain said. “It’s just a stepping stone. It’s nowhere near where I want to be. It’s just another part of my journey and my journey is not complete. I’m fortunate to be able to do some more years with the Ravens and hopefully end it all here with this organization.”
Getting McClain back bolsters the Ravens’ defense and it provides a potential future successor for All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
McClain had 84 tackles last season, also recording one sack, five pass deflections, an interception and two fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown against the New York Jets.
“I probably wasn’t real confident early on because we just know what kind of player he is,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when asked if he was concerned about losing McClain to another team. “Our fans know how good of a player he is. For whatever reason, the inside ‘backer market just didn’t really go crazy like the outside ‘backer market did. The more it went, the more excited I got that maybe he would be able to fit into our economic situation. He got a really good contract.
“It’s going to be something that is going to give him an opportunity even down the road to do well financially. He’s one of us. He helps define what it means to be a Raven. Look at his character, look at his story, look at what he’s done. I just have so much respect for him, so much admiration for him as a person. He’s a big part of who we are.”
McClain is intent on continuing to improve as an all-around linebacker, seeking to upgrade his pass-coverage skills.
He’s an accomplished run-stopper.
“I have a whole lot of room to grow,” McClain said. “I am nowhere near where I want to be. There is tremendous upside. It’s a chip on my shoulder the size of a golden nugget.”
Grounded and not flashy, McClain has no intentions of doing anything wasteful with his money.
He’s heavily involved in charitable pursuits.
“The first thing I do financially, I am going to put this money in a sneaker box,” McClain said with a laugh. “No, no, no. I am going to put it in the bank, invest it. I am trying to secure my future, trying to take care of my family and generations behind me.
“It’s not where it needs to be, but I will get there. What am I going to do? I am going to spend it right. I am not going to make it rain.”