Ravens could begin pursuit of Smith soon

The Baltimore Ravens, considered a favorite to land wide receiver Steve Smith, could begin their pursuit of the Carolina Panthers' all-time leading receiver very soon.

Smith will be released by the Panthers on Thursday after the team was unable to trade him, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could also have interest in Smith.

The Ravens made it a priority to add a dependable receiver this offseason, and they have a strong history of signing good players cut by other teams. General manager Ozzie Newsome also has had success picking up veteran receivers in the past, signing Derrick Mason in 2005 and trading for Anquan Boldin in 2010.

Smith is the type of clutch, go-to receiver the Ravens need. He also brings an intensity and work ethic that can rub off on young receivers.

The biggest problem is Smith turns 35 in May and he's coming off his second-worst season (in terms of productivity) over the past nine years. He had 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns.

Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl player, could come at a good price because the Panthers will have to pay him $3 million this season as part of the three-year extension he signed in 2012.

The wide receiver free-agent class dwindled Wednesday, when Eric Decker signed with the New York Jets and Golden Tate reached an agreement with the Detroit Lions.

UPDATE: The Panthers announced they released Smith around 11:30 a.m.