Wide receiver Torrey Smith is poised to leave the Ravens as a free agent and the San Francisco 49ers, according to multiple NFL sources, are the front-runners to land the former Maryland standout.
For Smith to have remained with the Ravens, which several league sources reiterated has been an extremely unlikely scenario for weeks, he would have had to leave several million dollars on the table.
Although no deal has been finalized, sources indicated there's strong mutual interest between the former second-round draft pick and San Francisco. One source characterized the Smith situation as a "done deal with the 49ers," barring any unforeseen snags. Deals cannot become official until Tuesday at 4 p.m., when the league year and free agency signing period begins.
Smith acknowledged his pending departure Sunday night with a blog in which he thanked the Ravens for his four years in Baltimore.
"These last four years have been amazing for me," Smith wrote. I have been able to grow as a player, and more importantly, as a man. The men who run the Baltimore Ravens organization have been essential to my growth. For that I say thank you! To the fans, it is tough to leave a city that I now call home. Y'all have embraced my family and me, and we truly appreciate it.
"Your support has been unreal and I will miss being able to make y'all proud. Although I may no longer be a member of the Baltimore Ravens, at heart, I will always be a Raven. What we accomplished together is timeless. I will be playing for a different organization, but I will remain committed to the City of Baltimore. I'm on to the next chapter of my life and football career, but I will see you guys later."
There are several connections between the 49ers and Smith, including former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin and former Maryland tight end Vernon Davis. Smith has maintained a strong friendship with Boldin since he was traded to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick following the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory.
The Green Bay Packers avoided losing star wide receiver Randall Cobb to free agency by signing him to a four-year, $40 million contract that includes $17 million guaranteed. The deal is having a ripple effect on the wide receiver market.
As an established deep threat, Smith had already drawn significant interest, with several suitors willing to pay him at least $8 million to $9 million annually and exceed anything the salary cap-strapped Ravens could or would pay. With Cobb establishing a $10 million annual benchmark, Smith could at least approach those numbers on the open market.
Despite Smith's stated desire to remain with the Ravens, the team is just $4.639 million under the salary cap and couldn't match what he'll make as a free agent. In addition to the 49ers, Smith has been linked to several teams, including the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Without Smith, the Ravens will have to contemplate their remaining affordable options in free agency or possibly draft a rookie wide receiver to play opposite five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith. If he's released, then Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson would be regarded as a potential fit despite his age because he remains a productive possession receiver. The Ravens met with several wide receivers at the NFL scouting combine.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made it abundantly clear during a state-of-the-team news conference in February that the Ravens would only spend only so much to keep Smith. Bisciotti referenced the Miami Dolphins' five-year, $60 million deal for inconsistent wide receiver Mike Wallace that included $30 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus as a cautionary tale.
"The difference between what we can pay Torrey and what he gets on the open market ... Mike Wallace got $10 million [$11 million bonus], I don't think anybody thinks that was a good deal," Bisciotti said. "And so there is always a team that has lots of money that wants to bring in playmakers and those guys are going to get those deals. We're just going to have to take it on the chin and move on."
Contract negotiations between Smith's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and Ravens management last year didn't come close to a deal, according to sources.
Drafted in the second round out of Maryland in 2011, Smith hasn't made a Pro Bowl. He got off to a slow start last season and finished with 49 receptions for 767 yards and a career-high 11 touchdowns as Steve Smith emerged as the Ravens' top wide receiver.
Smith had 213 receptions for 3,591 yards, 30 touchdowns and averaged 16.9 yards per catch in his four years with the Ravens.
"Let's be frank: Do you hope that Torrey doesn't break the bank out in the open market so we can get him for our number? That's a hard thing to say," Bisciotti said. "I care about the kid. I want him to maximize his earnings. At the same time, the more successful he is doing that, the less successful we are at retaining him.
"I don't like to stand up here and say we're rooting against the guy, but we have to find a number. Some of the numbers that are thrown out there quite frankly we can't match. We don't have that kind of [cap] space. There's a lot of teams out there that don't spend to the cap and we always do. I'm always envious of those teams right about this time of year, and then they're envious of me when we're in the playoffs."