Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. plans to make this his last season in the NFL. "I feel like this is the best place, if it's going to be the end this would be the best place for it to end," said Smith. (Kevin Richardson)
Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr., 36, announced Monday that he will retire at the end of the 2015 season, his 15th year in the NFL. He will have played just two seasons here, but he epitomized this city and the team's slogan, "Play Like a Raven." Few have played like one and even fewer have practiced as hard as they played on game day.
Ray Lewis. Kelly Gregg. That was about it, until Smith.
In one year, he became one of the Ravens' most popular players because he is so Baltimore, an overachiever with a blue collar work ethic and a chip on his shoulder.
We like being an underdog and the "us against the world" mentality that comes with it. Smith might not be as good as he once was, but he has been a welcomed addition here, just like tight end Shannon Sharpe and wide receiver Anquan Boldin were.
Unfortunately, just as Sharpe will be remembered as a Denver Bronco and Boldin as an Arizona Cardinal, Smith will be forever linked to the Carolina Panthers. And he should be, after spending 13 years of his potential Hall of Fame career there.
Smith's departure is a reminder that the Ravens have been unable to produce a quality receiver that fans can call their own. They have struck out in the NFL draft with selections like Patrick Johnson, Travis Taylor, Ron Johnson, Devard Darling and Mark Clayton.
They brought two good ones with them from Cleveland in Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander, but neither lasted for more than three years. They've had success with homegrown products like Jermaine Lewis and Torrey Smith, but both were allowed to leave for other teams after starting their careers here.
Derrick Mason was the most productive receiver in team history with 471 receptions for 5,777 yards and 29 touchdowns during his five years as a Raven, but he, too, was a rental after spending eight seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
Baltimore fans might never fully appreciate Smith because they can't watch practice. It was always a pleasure to watch Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden perfect their craft during those sessions and Smith is from the same mold — he has a seemingly endless amount of energy.
Even when he isn't practicing with the first unit, Smith is stretching or walking through pass patterns. All great receivers have their trademarks — Berry could run the out and Jerry Rice could run the slant. Smith has the ability to adjust in anticipation of any pass, regardless of how far off target it is.
Smith doesn't just catch balls, he snags them.
There has always been criticism of his sour demeanor and history of getting into altercations with teammates, but that's pretty standard with most No. 1 receivers. He could play for me at any time, and anywhere.
The career statistics make him Pro Football Hall of Fame material. He has 915 receptions for 13,262 yards and 73 touchdowns, was selected to five Pro Bowls and name All-Pro three times. In 2005, Smith led the league in catches, receiving yards and touchdown. That was one year removed from breaking his leg and missing most of 2004.
But what set him apart was that he never played with a great quarterback in Carolina. Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young. Michael Irvin had Troy Aikman. Andre Reed had Jim Kelly.
Smith played with Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, Jimmy Clausen, Jake Delhomme and Cam Newton. He not only deserves a yellow Hall of Fame jacket, but a badge of courage, as well.
He still ended his Panthers career as the all-time leader in touchdowns (67), receptions (836) and receiving yards (12,197) and last year Smith had 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns for the Ravens.
He appeared to taper off at the end of the season and there were some unexplainable drops. But overall, he was still a threat and team leader. He made a significant impact. Hopefully, he'll leave Baltimore just like Boldin in 2012, with a Super Bowl win.
His career legacy might be in another city, but his championship would have come in Baltimore. That's a great trade off, for a rental.