Wearing an “I Love Baltimore” hat, wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones admitted that he took less money to re-sign with the Ravens and return to a place that he called “home.”
The Ravens can only hope free agent wide receiver Steve Smith eventually feels the same way. According to sources, Smith is scheduled to visit the Ravens on Friday. He was expected to arrive in Baltimore on Thursday evening.
After monitoring the Smith and Carolina Panthers fallout from afar, the Ravens have their first opportunity to make their pitch to the five-time Pro Bowl receiver after he was released following 13 NFL seasons with the Panthers.
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The Ravens consider Smith a great fit for what they are looking for in terms of a chain-moving wide receiver who can make tough catches in traffic and be a threat on both third down and in the red zone. The Ravens feel that Smith, who has averaged 75 catches over the past nine seasons, can be the tough and veteran presence that they lacked after trading Anquan Boldin last offseason to the San Francisco 49ers.
“I know he can play,” said Jones, who signed his four-year contract with the Ravens that could be worth as much as $14 million, when asked about the potential addition of Smith. “It’d be nice. I’m open arms. If you can play and they like you, I love you.”
Smith, 34, considers the Ravens one of his preferred destinations along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers, according to a source. The Ravens satisfy several of the elements that Smith is seeking, including a winning environment and proximity to his Charlotte home. Smith’s wife is expecting their fourth child.
The Ravens also host the Panthers in the 2014 regular season though they can’t compete with Buccaneers who play Carolina twice a year as NFC South rivals. That apparently is important to Smith, whose divorce with the only NFL team that he’s ever known was due in part to a poor relationship with Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman.
“Put your goggles on because there is going to be blood and guts everywhere,” Smith said Thursday in a radio interview with WFNZ in North Carolina, when asked about potentially playing against his old team.
Smith’s age, price tag – he had a $7 million salary cap hit for the 2014 which prevented the Panthers from trading him – and his feisty and outspoken nature on and off the field also contributed to Carolina’s decision. Smith is also coming off an uneven 2013 season in which his catch total (64), yardage (745) and yards per catch (11.6) dropped significantly.
“Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good,” Gettleman said in a statement released by the team. “And it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.”
Smith went on his Twitter account to bid farewell to Panthers fans and to say Charlotte will always be his home. He also said that he still has a “[little] bit of football left in me.”
Signing Smith, over another free agent wide receiver like the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman who the Ravens are also interested in, would be the organization’s latest acquisition of an accomplished wide receiver later in their career. The move paid dividends with both Derrick Mason and Boldin.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh spoke to reporters Thursday morning, but at the time, Smith was still a member of the Panthers and any comment about the team’s interest in him would violate league tampering moves.
Harbaugh, however, did make it clear that he was pleased with the offseason offensive moves that the team was making, including the hiring of coordinator Gary Kubiak and the re-signing of tight end Dennis Pitta, tackle Eugene Monroe and Jones.
“Our offense is getting better by maintaining the guys that we have here right now,” Harbaugh said. “… We’re excited about what we’re building on offense.”
Harbaugh called Jones, who has 10 touchdowns for the Ravens over the past two seasons, a playmaker and said that the organization believes the 29-year-old’s best football is ahead of him.
Jones missed four games last season because of a strained right knee sustained in the season-opening loss to the Denver Broncos. He finished the season with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 28.8 yards per kickoff return and 12.5 yards per punt return. He also added a punt return score.
Jones was taking a free agent visit with the New York Giants Wednesday when he had an epiphany, resulting in him halting the visit and telling his agent to accept the Ravens’ offer, which was for less money than he could’ve gotten elsewhere.
“Honestly, when I was up in New York, I was walking around and I think I came to my senses really,” said Jones who joked that he wasn’t good at math and didn’t know how much money he left on the table to re-sign with the Ravens. “It wasn’t about money. It was the fact that this is probably the one place that would let me be myself, the city, the state, the organization, the coaches. They knew I kind of don’t have it all up here [in the head]. There are some loose ends and they accept that.”
Jones said that he was excited about the future of the Ravens’ offense and reuniting with Kubiak, his former head coach with the Houston Texans who Jones compared to a “biological father.” He predicted that Kubiak will really help quarterback Joe Flacco.
He didn’t say it, but he surely knows that the addition of a dangerous receiver likely Smith surely would, too.