Sports columnist Mike Preston talks about the four games suspension of Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith for a violation of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
The Ravens would have cut Jimmy Smith except for the fact that he’s a former first-round draft pick and a several-million-dollar investment.
He also happens to be the team’s best cornerback in a season that has a sense of urgency. It is Ozzie Newsome’s last year in a long, distinguished career as Ravens general manager, and head coach John Harbaugh is likely to be fired if the team doesn’t get to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
Those are the reasons that matter most for the Ravens.
On Tuesday, the NFL announced Smith was being suspended for four games after finding evidence of “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” toward a former girlfriend “that showed a pattern of improper conduct.”
That conclusion should have been enough for the Ravens to terminate Smith’s contract, but instead they are keeping him. Apparently, team officials believe the memories of former running back Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case here in 2014 have faded enough to offer Smith a reprieve.
I believe in second chances. In some situations, I believe in multiple opportunities especially where children are concerned. But Smith, 30, is no longer a kid. He has a troubled history dating to his playing days at the University of Colorado.
In 2014, Smith was charged with failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer, a misdemeanor, after an incident at The Greene Turtle in Towson. On Dec. 4, one day after tearing an Achilles tendon, the league announced Smith had violated the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Entering his eighth season in the organization, enough is enough. The Ravens would have to swallow a lot of salary cap money if they cut him, but Smith simply can’t be trusted anymore on or off the field.
When you first meet Smith he appears to be a nice person. He is smart, charming and has a great smile. He seems to be thoughtful and doesn’t back away from answering tough questions. As far as football, he is the perfect cornerback prototype at 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds.
But there are other times when he is edgy, irritable and quirky, and I imagine that’s the side that prevails when Smith gets in trouble.
The Ravens said all the right things in a statement Tuesday. They said through conversations with Smith they believe he is taking the proper steps to improve and that he can change. They said if Smith doesn’t, he understands the consequences.
Smith offered similar lip service.
He apologized to his former girlfriend, the NFL, the Ravens organization, coaches, teammates, his fiancé and the fans. He said he will continue to try to be a better person, father and is committed to being the best person he can be on and off the field.
Here’s my problem with all of this: If you are going to talk the talk, then you better walk the walk. Smith has had numerous opportunities to walk right and he hasn’t, so the Ravens should have walked him out the front door.
But they didn’t. That’s because they don’t have another shutdown cornerback on the roster yet, not until second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey takes his game to another level.
When healthy, Smith can be one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL and hold his own against receivers such as A.J. Green and Antonio Brown. The Ravens also have invested eight years and millions of dollars in Smith.
So regardless of the circumstances, Newsome is going to try to hold onto Smith like a pauper holding onto his last penny.
If this had been a less talented player, the Ravens would have released him. This reminds me of the old, cranky football coach who has two sets of discipline: one for the stars and one for the other players.
The Ravens will be OK without Smith. In the past, they have struggled when he was out with an injury, but they have depth in the secondary with veteran Brandon Carr, who will join Humphrey in starting.
They have two young, quality cornerbacks in Tavon Young and Maurice Canady, and a rookie with potential in Anthony Averett.
In addition, two of the four teams Smith will not face, the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, are unsettled at the quarterback position. The Cincinnati Bengals, though, depending on if quarterback Andy Dalton gets hot, could give the Ravens problems.
Then there is the fourth team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. With or without Smith, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell terrorize the Ravens.
Hopefully, the suspension helps Smith. Maybe he becomes a better man, the one he talked about in his prepared statement Tuesday. But sometimes change is good for a person. Sometimes losing your job and moving to another city can create a new appreciation of life. The greatest mismanagement in Ravens history was the way they handled the Rice situation four years ago, especially as far as public relations.