Vowing to upgrade the wide receiver position at the start of the offseason, the Ravens secured one of the better receivers of the last decade by agreeing to terms with veteran Steve Smith on Friday.
Baltimore signed the longtime Carolina Panthers receiver to a three-year, $11 million deal that includes a $3.5 million signing bonus, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and has long been known for his playmaking ability and toughness despite his slight stature.
His fiery attitude has occasionally drawn criticism, but the 34-year-old said the Ravens didn’t express any concerns with his tendencies to speak his mind and wear his emotions on his sleeve.
“Everything seemed to gel, and coach Harbaugh was excellent,” Smith said in a conference call. “We talked about a lot of things, and the one thing that they said that was consistent was, ‘We want you to be yourself.’ That was good, that was very encouraging. I enjoyed that.”
Smith flew to Baltimore Thursday night to meet with team officials and continued those discussions before striking a deal late Friday afternoon. New England, San Diego, Washington, and Seattle were among the other teams who expressed interest in the 14th-year receiver, who was initially inclined to take his time in making a decision and had already scheduled a visit with the Patriots on Monday.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh shared their desire at the beginning of the offseason to add an impact receiver who could move the chains and gain yards after the catch. However, Smith’s 11.6 yards per catch average in 2013 was the second-lowest mark of his career (not counting the 2004 season in which he only played one game) and a sharp decline from the 16.1 yards he averaged per reception in 2012.
“Steve is a Ravens-style football player,” head coach John Harbaugh said in a team statement. “He always has been in our eyes, it’s just that he’s been playing for another team. We’ve 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.”
Smith told reporters he hadn’t yet spoken with quarterback Joe Flacco but was excited to talk to both him and running back Ray Rice. The veteran was also complimentary of No. 1 wide receiver Torrey Smith and said he expects to fit in nicely in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system.
The Ravens were believed to be targeting a wide receiver to play in the slot, but Smith has always done his best work on the outside of the formation. Last year, he ran only 15.5 percent of his snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.
Some have compared Smith’s toughness and competitive nature to former Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin, but he says he’s just looking to contribute to a championship-caliber team as he approaches the end of his career.
“What I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table,” Smith said. “My comparison to Anquan … I can’t [compare], because I respect the heck out of that guy and what he brings to the table and who he is. We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and so I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”
Officially released on Thursday, Smith was scheduled to carry a $7 million cap figure in 2014, but the Panthers instead elected to move on from the franchise’s all-time receiving leader after he recorded 64 catches for 745 yards in 15 games, his lowest totals since 2010. Carolina will still owe him $5 million as he will receive $3 million guaranteed and an additional $2 million in deferred bonus money.
Smith becomes the first outside free agent that Newsome has signed this offseason but will not count against the compensatory pick formula since he was released by his former team. The former Panther will have the chance play his former team this coming season as the Ravens host Carolina for the first time since the 2006 season when Smith caught eight passes for 189 yards and a touchdown in a game Baltimore lost.
“I don’t harbor any bad feelings,” Smith said. “I kind of used the ‘blood and guts’ thing [as] more tongue-in-cheek; I wasn’t literally saying that I don’t like this organization anymore. That’s not the case. I love the organization. I love what they’ve done for me.”
For his career, Smith has recorded seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and has caught 67 touchdowns, but he will turn 35 in May.