Cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose best NFL season came to an end Sunday when he tore his left Achilles tendon, may not have been available for the Ravens’ playoff push anyway.
The Ravens’ top cornerback was facing a four-game suspension after he was found in violation of the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Smith and the Ravens learned of the pending suspension last week, according to multiple sources.
Smith was in the process of appealing the suspension but he’ll drop the appeal, according to ESPN, now that his season is over anyway because of the Achilles’ injury. Players can serve suspensions while on injured reserve. Ravens running back Kenneth Dixon did that this season.
If Smith didn’t sustain the Achilles injury in the first half of Sunday’s 44-20 victory over the Detroit Lions, he could have technically served the four-game ban over the final four regular-season games and then been ready to return if the Ravens qualify for the playoffs. The Ravens are 7-5 and have a one-game lead for the second wild-card spot with four games to play.
But with Smith unable to return this year anyway and facing surgery to repair the Achilles, that’s now a moot point.
Smith will miss Sunday’s key game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their star wide out Antonio Brown, along with matchups against the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. Smith and the Ravens held the dynamic Brown to four catches for 36 yards in a 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 1 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The timing of the injury and suspension couldn’t be worse for Smith, who was hoping to finish the season strong and earn his first Pro Bowl berth, and for the Ravens, who will have to deal with top receivers Brown, the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton and the Bengals’ A.J. Green without their best cover guy on the field.
Despite battling Achilles tendonitis, Smith started the Ravens’ first 12 games and had 26 tackles, nine passes defended, three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. Other than struggling against the Houston Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins, Smith has been one of the team’s top-performing players and one of the league’s highest graded cornerbacks.
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Smith’s loss means rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who has been battling a hamstring injury, will start across from veteran Brandon Carr. The Ravens also have the option of using Maurice Canady, who has mostly played in the slot, on the outside, while relying on safeties Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine Sr. and rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill to play in the slot.
Humphrey has played well and cornerback is one of the team’s deepest positions, unlike past seasons. The Ravens are used to being without Smith, a first-round pick in 2011 who has battled myriad injuries, and probably better equipped to handle his absence than in the past given the depth they have.
Smith, 29, has played in all 16 regular-season games just twice in his career. Admitting this offseason that he had to plenty to prove, Smith set a goal of not missing any games and he was on the way to accomplishing that despite the Achilles’ soreness sidelining him for one or two practices each week.
The former Colorado standout missed four games as a rookie in 2011 with a high ankle sprain and five games in 2012 after having sports hernia surgery. He started all 16 games during the 2013 and 2015 seasons, but he missed eight games in 2014 because of a Lisfranc foot sprain that required surgery.
Last season, he was sidelined for two games with a bad back and then he missed the final three games with an ankle injury. His absence coincided with the Ravens’ defense falling apart over the past month and the team failing to make the playoffs.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and the team’s front office spent significant time and money this offseason in rebuilding the secondary in the hopes that a similar collapse wouldn’t happen again. With Smith no longer part of the equation for the rest of the 2017 season, the Ravens will be tested.