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Maybe some sadness, but no regret for ex-Ravens receiver Torrey Smith

Torrey Smith said it was difficult to leave Baltimore, but he's excited for his new start in San Francisco.

Torrey Smith readily acknowledges it now. He had designs on setting all of the Ravens' receiving records.

He wanted to spend his entire career with the team and win multiple Super Bowls. When it was all said and done, he yearned to see his name displayed on the base of the M&T Bank Stadium upper deck as a member of the Ravens "Ring of Honor."

As Smith spoke Friday — two days after his foray into free agency ended with him signing a five-year, $40 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers — there was still a tinge of disappointment, maybe even a little sadness, evident in his voice. But there was not even the slightest hint of regret.

"There is nothing that can replace that chapter for me," Smith said over the phone from South Florida, where he is preparing for the 2015 season and working toward an MBA at the University of Miami. "I became a man in Baltimore. I got drafted in the NFL. I got married. My son was born there. These are memories that will never go away. I don't take anything negative away from my experience in Baltimore. There are ups and downs in the game, in general. But the last four years of my life, football-wise and with the organization, it's been awesome. It's something I'll always remember."

This week has been surreal for Smith, having to say goodbye to old teammates, thinking about his move cross country and joining a new organization. But the 26-year-old is very much at peace with his decision and excited about his new NFL home.

He'll be playing again with his former Ravens teammate, receiver Anquan Boldin, who helped ease his transition to the NFL, and with another former Maryland standout, tight end Vernon Davis. He'll be with a team that, like the Ravens, enters every season with the expectation of winning a Super Bowl. In his visit to 49ers headquarters this past week, Smith detected the same close-knit environment he cherished with the Ravens.

"I've known the same thing for the past four years," Smith said. "It's definitely a change but sometimes change is a good thing. I've been in the same place forever — the East Coast, Maryland. I look at it as a positive. This is a place that believed in me the same way that the Ravens did when they took me in the draft."

The 49ers badly needed an injection of speed on the outside and a downfield threat for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who struggled at times last season.

"There's not one person that has a negative thing to say about Torrey Smith," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told reporters after signing Smith. "So when you get all of that information, and you put on the film, and you see what he can do for you on game day, it makes the decision a lot easier to make."

In four seasons with the Ravens, Smith caught 213 passes for 3,591 yards and 30 touchdowns in the regular season and 20 balls for 414 yards and four scores in the postseason, playing in all 72 of the team's games during that span. He didn't rewrite the Ravens' receiving record book as he had hoped, but Smith's 16.9-yard per catch average is the best in franchise history.

When Smith was asked about his most memorable moments in Baltimore, he didn't bring up his last-second, game-winning touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, his two-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots on the same day of his younger brother's death in a motorcycle accident or even the Ravens' victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

He talked about the relationships he built, both in the Baltimore community where Smith was one of the most active and charitable Ravens, and in the locker room where Smith emerged as a team leader and a de facto spokesman in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.

"These guys are my family, my brothers, and I'm not going to be with them," said Smith who has vowed to continue to be active with his foundation and in the Baltimore community. "But that doesn't change my relationship and the bond that we had. … The business side doesn't change those relationships. That's forever."

That's why after Smith decided to sign with the 49ers, he picked up his phone and started dialing furiously. He called Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. He spoke to coaches, teammates and other Ravens employees who he developed a relationship with along the way.

"I had some honest conversations with the leaders of the organization and it was great closure for me," Smith said. "I appreciate those guys. What they did for me changed my life forever. I'll be forever grateful and thankful. With Ozzie, Harbs, Mr. Bisciotti, these are people that I've had very open conversations with, even when it was bad and it was things that I didn't want to hear. They've never lied to me. They've always been very open to me and I appreciate that as a man, and it says a lot about them as men. It was very important for me not to leave on bad terms."

Before he even practiced with the Ravens for the first time, Smith, a second-round draft pick in 2011, learned the NFL could be an unforgiving business. He was shocked when he heard the organization released popular veterans Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee and Kelly Gregg, guys that he grew up watching play.

In the month leading up to this year's free agency, Smith struggled to get a good night's sleep. He knew he'd have several lucrative options, but the uncertainty got to him, as did the thought of leaving the city his family called home. He still was optimistic he'd re-sign with the Ravens all the way up until last weekend when teams were first allowed to contact his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and start making their free-agent pitches.

Smith had no interest in discussing how hard the Ravens worked to keep him, what might or might not have been offered and which other teams were involved in the bidding. He got much-needed "closure" with the Ravens and all that matters to him now is he's excited to be a 49er and for the new challenges that await.

He understood the Ravens had little flexibility under the salary cap, a fact reaffirmed when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, one of the franchise's all-time best players, was traded to the Detroit Lions last Tuesday for two draft picks.

Smith was appreciative that Newsome and other team officials were up front about where things stood and encouraged him to do what's best for his family. He also was flattered when he learned later about the glowing scouting reports Ravens officials gave to the 49ers.

In the days after his decision, Smith said he's been overwhelmed by the support he's gotten from most Ravens fans, who he bid goodbye to in a letter he posted on Instagram last Sunday.

"It kind of really put things in perspective for me. It let you know the impact you were able to make just by simply playing for the Ravens," Smith said. "Baltimore, to me, is more about the relationships than the jersey that I'm wearing at this point. It doesn't change. There are people who I genuinely care about and they genuinely care about me as well. It was personal when I was there. I wasn't there for a moment. My commitment, as I've said, was long term."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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