The Baltimore Ravens added a much-needed piece in free agency Friday as veteran wide receiver Steve Smith signed a three-year contract worth $11 million.
Smith, 34, comes to a Ravens team that lacks a true No. 1 receiver, and while they may not have grabbed that with the addition of the former Carolina Panther, his body of work suggests Baltimore is getting a quality football player in more ways than one. Smith’s numbers are good as he is 19th all-time on the NFL’s career receptions list, but the five-time Pro Bowler brings more to the Ravens with his attitude and playing style than what they have been accustomed to on the offensive side of the ball.
When Anquan Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers last off-season for a sixth-round pick, Baltimore lost their physical presence on the outside at the receiver position. But they also lost a player who “played angry” and former Ravens head coach talked about the importance of that attribute in up and coming players like potential top 10 selection wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Smith can say he doesn’t play with a chip on his shoulder, but at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, the undersized pass-catching threat plays more like a big-bodied receiver. His diminutive figure is only a misconception as Smith will block, although he doesn’t excel at it, he will go over the middle out of the slot and make the tough catch and he will get in opponents’ and even his teammates’ faces when he feels the need to make his voice heard.
There have been rumblings around the league that Smith isn’t a great teammate and that is concerning for a guy who held a “C” on his chest during the latter stages of his career in Carolina. Issues like this could be more easily policed when guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were still roaming the locker rooms of Owings Mills and downtown Baltimore. But Smith said one of the main reasons the Ravens were an attractive option is that they wanted him to be himself and nobody else. If that means he’s a firecracker, he will explode in a good or bad way.
This move has far more risk than reward. Adding a veteran receiver like Smith, who has stated that he isn’t a No. 1 anymore, will allow for other targets like Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Dennis Pitta to benefit in terms of their abilities to get open. Smith will also be able to tutor these younger receivers on how to find seams and creases in the secondary as he can do so a little easier given his size.
While he thinks he isn’t a No. 1, he is for the Ravens. Even though he will play both in the slot and on the outside, he is the most talented and well-groomed split end.
This will obviously benefit Joe Flacco in the short term, but the long term impact of this move is why people are questioning it. Just because the Ravens added Smith via free agency, doesn’t mean they can’t attempt to add another young piece early in May’s draft.