Lardarius Webb is something Ed Reed isn’t: young, and therefore healthy. That’s why it was vital for the Baltimore Ravens to secure Webb to a long-term contract. Reed will turn 34 in Week 1 of the 2012 season, and although he played a full season last year, he was hobbled in the NFC Championship game, and it was his first 16-game year since 2008.

Reed had missed 10 games over the previous two years, and while his eternally optimistic mind tells him that he can play for four-to-five more years, reality says otherwise. When the Ravens’ All-Pro safety finally retires he’ll leave a massive hole in the secondary, making both fortifying the defensive backfield through the draft and retaining Webb a priority. The Ravens began to take care of step one in that process last April, drafting Jimmy Smith late in the first round. Step two was finished today.

Webb was signed to a six-year contract worth $50 million, with $20 million guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Albert Breer. Our astute math indicates that Webb will now be under contract in Baltimore until the end of the 2017 season, making him 32 when this deal expires. He’ll make $8.3 million annually, which is a little high for a cornerback who’s had one above average year, but that’s the price required to secure a promising young talent at a cornerstone defensive position.

Webb had a breakout year in 2011, finishing with a career-high five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He was a restricted free agent who received a first-round tender, which would have guaranteed him a one-year contract worth $2.74 million.

Beyond the general need to keep the younger pieces of Baltimore’s defensive backfield in place as Reed ages, there was also age at the cornerback position until recently in Baltimore, and there’s now a clear lean towards a youth movement. The Ravens chose to let seven-year veteran Chris Carr walk, and earlier this week he signed with the Vikings. Carr may not be that much older than Webb (he’s 28, and Webb is 26), but he’s been in the league for five more years, and has therefore faced that much more pounding.

The Ravens will be ushering out aging veterans at key positions over the next several years, and their ability to replace them with young assets will determine if they remain elite, or fade and rebuild.