From the moment Steve Smith Sr. was helped off the field, his arms draped over the shoulders of two athletic trainers and a towel over his face, there was a strong confidence within the organization that the veteran wide receiver’s playing days weren’t over.
Smith took to his Twitter account Wednesday to confirm what everybody had long suspected: he is rehabbing his Achilles with the intention of coming back with the Ravens to play in his 16th NFL season.
“Obviously anybody who bleeds black and purple is excited,” Ravens rush linebacker Elvis Dumervil said.
In what he called a “declaration of intention,” Smith vowed to “do what I love, enjoying quality time with my family; defy the odds, restoring my body to its optimal condition; [and] make a comeback, returning to the Baltimore Ravens ready to play football in 2016.”
The fiery Smith, who will turn 37 in May, punctuated the message by writing; “Let’s give em’ hell.”
His announcement comes more than four months after he said that the 2015 campaign would be his last and about eight weeks after he blew out his Achilles after catching a pass in a Nov. 1 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Smith had surgery and has begun the rehabilitation process, which he hopes will have him ready for the start of next season.
“I'm not surprised at all. He's not the type of guy to go out like that,” Ravens left tackle Kelechi Osemele said. “Obviously, we can't wait to have him back. I know he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and he's going to dominate because that's just the type of person he is.”
Smith’s announcement didn’t come as a surprise to many of the Ravens. In fact, the wide receiver had already told several teammates, including wide receiver Kamar Aiken and cornerback Jimmy Smith, that he was planning to return next year and play out the final year of the three-year, $10.5 million contract that he signed with the Ravens in March 2014 after he was let go by the Carolina Panthers.
“I didn’t think he was going to go out like that with the injury,” Aiken said. “I think it would have been different if he would have went out on his own terms, but not like that.”
Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, was in the midst of another strong season when he was injured. Despite the fact that he played in just seven games this year, Smith is second on the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (670) and he’s tied for third in touchdown receptions (third).
When he announced his pending retirement on Aug. 10, Smith said he wanted to depart the NFL while he was still healthy and playing at a high level. He cited a desire to spend more time with his family as the primary reason. Smith and his wife, Angie, have four kids and their oldest son, Peyton, will be a freshman soccer player at DePaul in the fall.
However, Smith said in his tweet that he had gotten the blessing from his friends and family to play another year.
“I have the most respect for Steve Smith, as a player and as a person. I love the guy,” Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda said. “Whatever he decides, I’m behind him. If he comes back, that’s huge for us. We all know what he brings as a player and as a teammate. That makes me happy. But either way, I respect his decision.”
Smith will return to the field ranked 11th all-time in receiving yards (13,932), and 15th in receptions (961). One more productive season would certainly enhance his Hall of Fame chances, though Smith has long said that’s not the reason why he’s still playing.
The timing of his announcement is big for the Ravens front office, which has several key decisions to make following the season. There is a lot of uncertainty at the receiver position as injuries have forced Smith, 2015 first-round NFL draft pick Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller to miss all or much of the season.
Aiken has shined in their absence and Chris Matthews, Jeremy Butler, Daniel Brown and return man Kaelin Clay have received opportunities to play. However, the return of a healthy Smith, along with the possible addition of another wide receiver through free agency of the draft, would elevate the group.
“It’s big,” Aiken said. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times so I knew how he felt about it. We’re glad that he’s coming back. It’s another year to be able to sit back and soak in whatever he has to offer and whatever we can learn from him.”