A day after parting ways with the Panthers, Steve Smith has signed a three-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens, per multiple media reports. ESPN's Adam Schefter was the first to report the news.
According to Smith's agent, Derrick Fox, the Panthers never asked Smith to renegotiate his deal, but when they failed to find a trade partner -- in part hampered by Smith's $7 million cap hit -- they released the longtime Panther.
“When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way,” general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement following the release. “To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it’s the right one."
Angered by the decision, Smith directed some trash talk at Carolina on Thursday.
“I want to make sure that whatever team I go to, they’re going to get the best, in shape 35-year-old guy they can get," Smith, who will turn 35 in May said before signing with Baltimore. "If that happens to run through Bank of America Stadium, put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.” The Ravens are scheduled to face the Panthers at home in 2014.
Last season, Smith had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns. In 13 season in Carolina, Smith had 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns, largely serving as the main man at receiver, with a series of questionable quarterbacks for the most part until recently, when Cam Newton developed his game.
“When you look at the Ravens, they’ve had a great amount of success integrating older players and younger players, fusing them together and understanding the right combination,” Smith said after the signing. “That part was very intriguing for me, and it also brings a challenge that I’m up for. I love the uniforms. I just love everything that it is to be a Baltimore Raven, so I’m looking forward to experiencing it all.”
“Steve is a Ravens-style football player," head coach John Harbaugh said. He always has been in our eyes, it’s just that he’s been playing for another team. We’ve always respected and admired the way he plays, and we’ve always been challenged playing against him. I’ve known him ever since he came into the league, and we’ve always had a great relationship. The last two days, however, have given all of us with the Ravens an opportunity to get to know him on another level, and now, we’re even more impressed. We’re looking forward to working together and competing together.”
The fit for the Ravens is great on a couple of levels. Outside of Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have been relatively shy on veteran leadership since Ray Lewis' retirement and Ed Reed's departure, and Smith is an exacting teammate when it comes to younger players living up to their potential. When Newton failed to exhibit the right amount of toughness in his first couple of years in the face of adversity, it was Smith who got right in his face and told him to man up.
“Cam Newton has a very unique opportunity to be a franchise quarterback to an organization that needs one,” Smith said in September 2012, after he earholed Newton following a benching the second-year quarterback underwent late in a loss to the New York Giants. “Statistics don't lie. Athletic quarterbacks, they either excel or they fail. And I told Cam that.
“This is an opportunity for him to learn -- at that time they were benching him -- and observe. They put D.A. [backup Derek Anderson] in. You can sit there, if this is the worst is going to get you're in for a long day and this is not what it's about.”
In addition, though Smith isn't as fast as he used to be, and thus may be more of a slot receiver than anything else at this point in his career, the Ravens could use any port in a storm. General manager Ozzie Newsome decided against paying possession receiver Anquan Boldin what he was worth following Baltimore's 2012 Super Bowl championship season, and there wasn't anyone else to step up and take over. Although Torrey Smith led the team with 65 receptions for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns, no other Baltimore receiver caught more than 49 passes. Running back Ray Rice finished second with 58 catches, but gained just 321 yards and scored no touchdowns. Marlon Brown led the team with 33 receptions in the slot for 311 yards and five touchdowns.
Another factor when considering Smith's relatively pedestrian stats in 2013 is the fact that the Panthers don't pass the ball as often as many other teams. Newton threw the ball just 473 times -- to put that in perspective, Peyton Manning completed 450 passes last year. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco threw a career-high 614 passes last season, completing 362 for 3,912 yards, 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. It was the first time in Flacco's career that he finished a season with more picks than scores, and it underlines -- once again -- why the Ravens desperately need a player of Smith's caliber and aggressiveness. No matter how old he is.
When receiver Jacoby Jones signed his contract extension earlier this week, he was asked about Baltimore's potential interest in Smith. It was clear that Smith would be a welcome addition.
“I know he can play," Jones said. "It’d be nice. I’m open arms. If you can play and they like you, I love you.”
It appears that soon after an unceremonious dumping at the hands of the team he helped define for well over a decade, Steve Smith may have found an ideal new home. Grade: B. Again, there's no question that Smith is not what he once was. But there are few players in the NFL who stoke their games with the fires of disrespect, and the cavalier way in which he was treated by the Panthers at the end should be of great benefit to his new team. Smith will make his share of catches outside, and he'll do what Boldin did so very well for the Ravens in 2012 -- make the tough catch in traffic, no matter what subsequent hit comes out of it. The Ravens needed a strong veteran presence and a gutsy possession receiver, and they got both in one relatively inexpensive package. Add in the fact that Flacco is the best pure quarterback he's ever been paired with, and it wouldn't be a total surprise if Smith has a bit of a comeback campaign in Baltimore.