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Entering final year of deal, contract a secondary thought for Ravens' Torrey Smith

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Torrey Smith appeared carefree and relaxed as he shrugged his shoulders each time his contract status was broached last week.

The former Maryland wide receiver's expressions and body language revealed no signs of stress. He's a man assured of his future.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome have stated that Smith will become the latest homegrown draft pick to be locked up with a long-term contract extension.

If that doesn't happen, history has shown there is a market for a wide receiver like Smith with a track record of making plays. On the first official day of training camp, Smith played coy and declined to offer hints when asked whether he thinks a deal will be reached, but there are clues about the Ravens' intentions to hold on to him.

"No, I don't think about the contract at all," said Smith, who's entering the final year of his four-year, $3.39 million rookie contract. "That stuff kind of takes care of itself. I'm not going out there on the field while I'm running a route like, 'Man, Ozzie saw that!' I'm here to win. I'm a Raven, always going to be a Raven. That's all I worry about."

No contract is imminent for Smith, and discussions aren't heating up at this time, according to sources.

That doesn't mean talks won't advance in the future, as the Ravens have said since the NFL owners meetings in March that retaining Smith is a priority.

Figuring out an appropriate price for a popular young player who's never missed a game and has piled up 164 career receptions for 2,824 yards and 19 touchdowns in three NFL seasons comes with its challenges.

Smith has yet to be named to a Pro Bowl, and that places him into a tier of good but not elite wide receivers.

"Torrey Smith may not be ideal as far as being that proven Pro Bowl guy, but he is Baltimore's No. 1 receiving option," said Joel Corry, a former NFL agent who writes about the business of football for National Football Post. "Torrey is a deep threat who can take the top off defenses. That adds value for Torrey."

Do the Ravens use the blueprint of New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker's five-year, $36.25 million contract? That deal, signed in March, included $15 million guaranteed with a $7.5 million signing bonus.

Where the Ravens and Smith might find middle ground are the guideposts from other recent deals averaging between $6 million to $8 million annually. Those include contracts for Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson (four years, $32 million) and Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (five years, $31 million).

This is a pivotal year for Smith. The 2011 second-round draft pick must learn new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's playbook and adjust to working in tandem with newly acquired wide receiver Steve Smith.

From the 2011 NFL draft, only Cincinnati Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green has clearly outshone Smith from a numbers perspective. Green has caught 260 passes for 3,833 yards and 29 touchdowns.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has caught 174 passes for 2,737 yards and 13 touchdowns, but missed 11 games last season with a foot injury. Both Green and Jones were first-round draft picks.

A waiting game?

The Ravens and Smith won't necessarily reach a deal this year, however. There's another scenario that could unfold between the team, whose chief negotiator is senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, and Smith's agent, Drew Rosenhaus. This could become something of a waiting game. The Ravens could use this season to evaluate how Smith performs in a revamped offense. And he could avoid contract discussions during or before the regular season and weigh his options before becoming an unrestricted free agent in March.

Smith has made it clear that he wants to remain in Baltimore, though.

"I think if you're the Ravens you've got to let Torrey play this year out," said retired former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, an ESPN football analyst. "If he does what he's supposed to do, then you pay him after you see how he fits. I think that's the right move. You should hedge your bets before committing big dollars.

"Torrey is an outstanding young receiver. He keeps growing, but he's only going to be as good as his quarterback. Torrey's not a guy who can take over a game.. That's not who he is. He's a home run threat, and he needs someone to get him the ball. He has a special skill you can't teach."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh raved about Smith this week as the team opened training camp.

"In my opinion, he's a premier player in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "He's going to have a breakout season, and I'm excited. I'm excited about every single guy we have, Torrey Smith as much as anybody, obviously because he works his rear end off. He has a great attitude. You have to pull the guy back.

"You have to grab him and say, 'Hey, man. Take a blow!' You have to do that because he's like a horse. He'll run himself until his heart explodes. He's just a great, great young man."

Intangible factors

There's an intangible aspect to Smith that makes investing in him appear to be a safer proposition. He is one of the Ravens' most active players in community and charity work. And he displayed resiliency when he caught two touchdown passes against the New England Patriots two years ago after his brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident the night before the game.

The Ravens clearly trust Smith, including as a team spokesman in thorny circumstances. He was the only player to conduct media interviews about teammate Ray Rice after the running back held a widely criticized press conference with his wife to apologize about a domestic violence case. This week, Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL.

"Torrey is a good kid, and that means a lot," Johnson said. "You want people that represent your organization the right way. You want to be proud of your guys. If you can find someone who can play and he's a good person, then you make sure you hold onto him."

Smith is also humble and willing to take constructive criticism in his quest to continue getting better as a receiver.

"You can't feel like you can stay the same," Smith said. "It's not like you have to reinvent yourself, but you have to do something to prove that you belong, and that's how I feel each and every year. I know I have to work on everything."

At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Smith combines speed, improved hands and the leaping ability to make contested catches.

Where quarterback Joe Flacco has identified progress since Smith's rookie season is in his ability to harness his athleticism.

"He's so fast and such short bursts of high intensity," Flacco said. "His first training camp out here, man, it was tough for him to get through a practice, and now that's not even a concern anymore. I feel really comfortable. ... I don't [know] if something is hitting his brain a little differently there, but that's just an example of him kind of getting a better understanding for some things and running some things a little better."

When the time comes to talk seriously about his long-term future with the Ravens, Smith sounds convinced he'll like the final outcome.

"I'm sure, at some time, today or next year, or whenever," Smith said. "I'm not going to give you all any hints as to what's going on. The business side I try to stay away from because you can't worry about things that you can't control.

"I've watched guys that let things like that affect them. I just go out there, have fun and get better to help us win. What other people think, I really can't control it. So, I just have to prove that I belong each and every day."

awilson@baltsun.com

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Torrey Smith file

Age: 25

Size: 6 feet, 205 pounds

College: Maryland

Hometown: Falmouth, Va.

Acquired: Second round, 2011 draft

Career statistics: 164 catches, 2,824 yards, 19 touchdowns

Last season: 65 receptions, 1,128 yards, four touchdowns

Milestones: First Raven since Derrick Mason (1,028 yards) in 2009 to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season. ... Ravens' career leader with 17.2-yards-per-catch average. ... All-time franchise leader with 37 receptions of 25 yards or longer.

Personal: Smith and his wife, Chanel, celebrated the birth of a son, Torrey Jr., this year. ... Named the Ravens' Walter Payton Man of the Year last year for his accomplishments on and off the field.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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