Baltimore Ravens

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith, ‘forever grateful,’ retires after 11 seasons in Baltimore

When Jimmy Smith was going through the predraft process in 2011, he knew NFL teams had some concerns — “orange flags,” he jokingly called them Monday. Smith had proven himself a first-round cornerback over his five years at Colorado, but there were questions about his maturity.

When Smith visited Baltimore, though, where Ravens officials saw a prototypical long, athletic corner, he recalled that it was “probably just like being at home.” The Ravens took Smith No. 27 overall. Over the next 11 years, it was the only team he’d play for.


“They knew I was immature but had to grow still, but they were willing to take a chance on me,” Smith said. “And that chance changed my life, so I’m forever grateful because I had a lot of ups and downs, obviously, as a person and a player. And they stuck right by me. They kind of epitomized loyalty.”

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, center, joined by coach John Harbaugh, left, and general manager Eric DeCosta, right, retired on Monday, ending his NFL career after more than a decade in Baltimore.

Smith announced his retirement Monday, ending his NFL career after more than a decade in Baltimore. He played 128 games for the Ravens, starting 90, and was instrumental in their Super Bowl XLVII triumph. He finished with 14 interceptions, seventh most in franchise history.


Smith, 34, had acknowledged near the end of last season that his future in football was uncertain. He was set to become a free agent, and injuries had limited him to just 30 games from 2019 to 2021. Smith didn’t sign anywhere during the offseason, and he acknowledged Monday that the toll of his career’s injuries had become too much of a burden to play through.

“I want to be remembered as the type of player that I was, obviously,” he said. “I know I went through a lot of injuries and I wasn’t always there to suit up, but I want them to remember the type of player I was when I was out there, what I brought to the team. I mean, I’m a jokester, I like to have fun, I like to kid and be too candid at times. But ultimately, I just want them to remember, like: championship!” He flashed his Super Bowl ring.

When healthy, Smith could be a shutdown outside cornerback, with the technique and size (6 feet 2) the Ravens have long coveted for their aggressive coverage schemes. Over Smith’s Ravens tenure, their defense allowed the NFL’s second-fewest yards (326) and third-lowest points (20.1) per game.

“Jimmy wanted to be on the field,” coach John Harbaugh, left, said of cornerback Jimmy Smith, center, on Monday. “He was going to find a way to get himself out there, one way or another, and right to the very end. That’s the thing that you always appreciated."

Even in the twilight of Smith’s career, he was among the team’s most capable defenders. Almost three months into the 2020 season, Pro Football Focus graded Smith as the eighth-best all-around corner in the league and the ninth best in coverage — ahead of starters Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters.

But injuries soon sidelined Smith, as they often did throughout his career. He played in every game in a season just twice, and after 2015, he never made more than 12 appearances in a year. Smith dealt with a sprained ankle, a sports hernia, a Lisfranc (foot) fracture, a back injury, a torn Achilles tendon, a sprained knee, a strained groin, a shoulder injury, a strained hip and a strained neck, among other ailments, over his career.

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“Jimmy wanted to be on the field,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “He was going to find a way to get himself out there, one way or another, and right to the very end. That’s the thing that you always appreciated. He was a football player, and football players want to play football. And I was happy when he was out there, I can tell you that. Even if he wasn’t 100% all the time, his 80% or 90% was better than most every other guy’s 100%. That says a lot.”

Harbaugh, one of Smith’s fiercest advocates in Baltimore, recalled consoling him during his second year and telling him that he would recover from a sports hernia in time to play. Harbaugh remembered Smith, frustrated by his pain, telling him, “Just put me on [injured reserve]! This is ridiculous.” Harbaugh said he told Smith, “You stick with this, you just keep pushing through this, and by the end of the season, you’re going to make the play that wins us the Super Bowl.”

In the Super Bowl, Smith kept San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree from catching the go-ahead touchdown pass on a fourth-and-goal play late in the fourth quarter.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith celebrates the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory.

“This is not a lie,” Smith said, joined at his news conference Monday by current Ravens players, coaches and officials and former Ravens teammates like running back Ray Rice and Anthony Levine Sr. “I did not believe him, but this is not a lie.”

Smith, whose first-ever play as a Raven ended with him suffering a high-ankle sprain, said he was proud of not only how long he played but also that he never left Baltimore. He felt a loyalty to the franchise, and said Monday, half-jokingly, that he wasn’t sure he wanted to retire “until this moment exactly right now.” Smith said he got emotional watching the Ravens’ tribute video Monday morning; he already missed the flights back to Baltimore after road wins, and the locker room with his teammates, and the coaches who’d helped him grow up and become a family man.

“The friendship that we had, a chance to kind of grow through all the different things that happened, the good things, the challenging things, the crazy things ... [are] what forges these kind of relationships and friendships that make football so amazing,” Harbaugh said.

“To finish where you start is a beautiful thing in professional sports,” general manager Eric DeCosta said. “A lot of guys don’t get the chance to do it. And I’m very happy that Jimmy had the chance to do that here as a Baltimore Raven.”