The first week of free agency ended with the Carolina Panthers saying goodbye to one of the best players in their history and the Baltimore Ravens welcoming a proven playmaker to a struggling offense. Wide receiver Steve Smith signed a three-year, $11.5 million deal with the Ravens on Friday, a day after his 13-year career with the Panthers ended.
Smith brings impressive receiving numbers as well as a colorful past from Carolina to Baltimore. ESPN.com Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley and Panthers reporter David Newton weigh in on the signing.
Hensley: Smith turns 35 in May. He had only 64 catches for 745 yards last season, among the worst numbers of his career when healthy. He acknowledged he's no longer a No. 1 wide receiver. What kind of production do you think Smith will have in 2014?
Newton: Probably slightly more than he would have had at Carolina now that the chip on his shoulder has gotten a little bit bigger. I can easily see him with 60 to 70 catches for 700 to 800 yards. But what Smith brings to the Ravens will go beyond catches. He'll make the running game better because he's a tenacious blocker. He'll draw coverage to free up the other wide receivers and tight ends. And he'll bring an attitude that will demand that everybody on offense plays better. I see this as a win-win-win for the Ravens and a loss for the Panthers.
My question to you is since Smith says he's no longer the No. 1 receiver, how do you see him fitting into the Baltimore lineup?
Hensley: I see him as an excellent fit with the Ravens. This reminds me of the times when the Ravens added experienced receivers Derrick Mason in 2005 and Anquan Boldin in 2010. Actually, Smith shares similarities with both receivers. Just like Mason, he can move the chains with comeback routes. Just like Boldin, he brings that fiery attitude that was sorely lacking in the Ravens' offense last season. Smith just has to be a complementary piece in the passing attack. Last season, defenses only had to worry about wide receiver Torrey Smith because tight end Dennis Pitta was hurt for most of the season. Now, teams have to defend Torrey Smith going deep, Pitta running over the middle and Steve Smith making a big play after breaking a tackle.
Steve Smith is known for his extreme personality. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman reportedly felt it was a distraction. Should the Ravens be concerned about Smith's influence in the locker room?
Newton: As I've said repeatedly through this process, the Steve Smith of five years ago might have been an issue in the locker room. The Steve Smith of today -- not so much. He's grown up a lot since his last incident with a teammate in 2008. I won't say he's mellowed, but football no longer is his entire life as it once was. He's enjoying life on and off the field more than ever. Does that mean he won't get in the face of a teammate if he feels that player isn't pulling his weight? No. But don't you want that to a certain level? Smith is a fiery player, and sometimes he gets fiery with his teammates. He's also a player teammates and opponents have to respect.
On that note, the statement from Baltimore management said Smith will add leadership to the team. Is this something that has been missing and something an outsider can correct?
Hensley: The Ravens have leaders on offense, but they're all low key. Joe Flacco, Torrey Smith and Pitta aren't going to bring that emotional spark. They're nice guys, perhaps too nice at times. What I think Ravens officials really meant by leadership is Steve Smith's desire to make clutch plays. You hear it all the time: Big-time players step up in big games. That's where the Ravens really missed Boldin last season. Boldin didn't put up spectacular numbers, but he wanted the ball on third downs and in the fourth quarter. Based on Smith's history in Carolina, the Ravens feel he can fill that void.
Smith signed a three-year deal. How many years do you think he has left?
Newton: It all depends on avoiding injuries. His goal is to finish his career ranked in the top 10 all time in receptions and receiving yards. It'll probably take three years for him to get there. He may have lost a step or two over the years, but he's still solid at creating separation and getting open -- maybe better at that now than he was earlier in his career from what he calls a few "tricks" Panthers wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl taught him. He's also in incredible shape, aside from a recent stop at In-N-Out Burger on a trip out West. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said during training camp this past year that nobody works harder than Smith. He'll work harder to prove he's not washed up.
Having said that, do you think Baltimore signed him in hopes that he'll play three years or as a one- or two-year stopgap?
Hensley: The Ravens would be happy if he was able to play a couple of years, but they realize this could be a one-year rental. The way his contract is set up, they would have only $2.3 million in dead money if they cut him after one season and they would have to pay him only $3 million each season (a relative bargain) if he plays in 2015 and 2016. So, the Ravens can let Smith's play dictate how long he'll be with them. That said, the signing of Smith won't stop the Ravens from drafting a wide receiver in May. It's a deep draft at that position, and the Ravens want to add as many targets for Flacco as possible. The Ravens are hoping an experienced leader like Smith will mentor a young group of wide receivers. They're paying Smith for what he can do for this team on and off the field.