Former Ravens receiver Torrey Smith was not born in Maryland, but he embraced the state and it hugged him back, which is why his retirement announcement Friday morning should give everyone around here a nice warm feeling.
Smith, who starred at the University of Maryland and played the first four of his eight NFL seasons with the Ravens, said in a video he is returning to Baltimore to make a contribution to a community that can certainly use his help.
It would not be the first time. Smith, 30, was active in the community before he left the Ravens as a free agent and signed a $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, and he continued to make a positive impact on Baltimore as his career also took him to Philadelphia before ending when the Carolina Panthers released him two weeks ago.
During the offseason after the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory in 2013, he took his victory lap, interning in the office of Congressman Elijah Cummings for a month. He has been a vocal member of the Players Coalition, a group of NFL players who speak out on social justice issues, and he runs the Torrey Smith Family Fund that hosts his annual charity basketball game at Royal Farms Arena each March.
Whether or not you agree with his politics, there should be no question about his passion. When he said in his retirement announcement that he is returning to Baltimore “where my heart is, and never left,” you can bet you’ll be seeing a lot of him.
These are obviously troubled times in Baltimore, which was recently dragged into another round of civic soul-searching when President Trump blasted the city in one of his angry tweet rants. His description of Cummings’ district as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," was mean-spirited, but it highlighted the city’s litter problem and spurred a cleanup campaign led by an out-of-state conservative activist.
Who knows whether Smith saw what was going on and decided that this would be an opportune time to re-energize his efforts to improve conditions in the city where he launched his lucrative professional football career. He’s going to have a lot more time on his hands — for his young family and his charitable pursuits — now that his athletic career has ended.
He’s not headed for the Hall of Fame, but he was a very good wide receiver who averaged just under 900 receiving yards over four seasons with the Ravens, during which he played every game, starting all but two. His best statistical season was in 2013, when he caught a career-high 65 passes for 1,128 yards, but he could probably find a reason to choose any of those four Ravens seasons as his favorite.
Smith quickly established himself during his rookie season in 2011, setting Ravens rookie records for receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He was a major cog in the 2012 Super Bowl title team and set a career high with 11 touchdowns in 2014 before becoming a free agent.
His playing time declined after he left the Ravens, but he started in at least 12 games in every one of his NFL seasons except last year in Carolina, where he appeared in only 11 games, started only six and managed only 190 receiving yards.
When the Panthers released him after the final preseason roster cuts Aug. 31, the NFL lost a good player and a faithful social advocate. But that just means Smith can come back here and dedicate his time and effort to a place that clearly needs him more.