Top Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was suspended four games Tuesday after the NFL found evidence of “threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors” toward a former girlfriend that “showed a pattern of improper conduct,” the team announced.
The Ravens said in a statement that Smith took full responsibility for his behavior, which he acknowledged was wrong. Smith was penalized for a violation of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy, the baseline suspension for which is a six-game ban without pay. But the Ravens said they consulted with relationship and domestic-violence experts, along with male and female team executives not involved with the organization’s football operations, to help determine the “appropriate course of action for our team.”
“Through our conversations with Jimmy, we believe he is taking the proper steps to improve and that he can change,” the team said in its statement. “Jimmy has assured us that he is fully dedicated to making this change. He also understands the consequences if he does not.”
In a petition filed last year in a Baltimore County Circuit Court, Micaela Sanchez, the mother of a young child with Smith, alleged that Smith has a “history of substance abuse and illicit drug usage” and “a history of being physically violent” toward her.
In an initial petition seeking sole custody of their child, Sanchez also said Smith “continues to live a NFL player party lifestyle,” teaches their child to say curse words and drinks alcohol “excessively,” among other allegations. Sanchez’s petition did not reference any specific domestic-violence incident.
Smith denied the allegations in court papers and to The Baltimore Sun in November. The Ravens said in their statement Tuesday that he has since resolved his "custody and support issues" with the ex-girlfriend, whom they did not identify. Smith and Sanchez previously were bound by a shared-custody arrangement agreed to in 2016.
Smith is now engaged to another woman, who had a baby boy last year; the child’s birth was announced at a postgame news conference in early October.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to my former girlfriend, the NFL, the Ravens organization, my coaches, my teammates, my fiancee and all our fans,” Smith said in a statement Tuesday. “I'm very disappointed that my past actions have led to this suspension. I promise that I have already learned much and will continue to learn more from this experience. I believe I am, and will continue to try to be, a better person and a better father because of this. I am committed to being the best I can be, both on and off the field.
“I take full responsibility for my past conduct. Moving forward, I will work with the NFL and the Ravens to ensure that what happened in the past will never happen again. I will take all necessary steps to be a positive role model for both my sons, for the NFL and for the entire Ravens community."
The four-game ban is Smith’s second in eight months. One day after suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon tear, the NFL announced Dec. 4 that Smith had violated the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He served his suspension while on injured reserve, and an accelerated offseason recovery led him to an appearance in the Ravens' Aug. 9 preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.
But Smith was absent from the Ravens’ game Monday night against the Colts in Indianapolis after participating in the teams’ two joint practices over the weekend. Coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Smith was tending to a “personal issue,” and that his absence was excused.
Smith can continue to participate in the Ravens’ preseason, including games. He will be eligible to return Oct. 1, the day after the team’s Week Four road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and six days before a matchup with the Cleveland Browns. He also will miss games against the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, none of whom finished higher than No. 20 in the NFL in passing offense last season.
Until his December injury, Smith was in the midst of a career year with the Ravens. He was allowing a quarterback rating of only 49.2 when targeted, third lowest among the 86 qualifying cornerbacks at the time of his injury, according to Pro Football Focus. In Smith’s 12 appearances last year, the Ravens allowed 198.6 passing yards per game. In his absence, they surrendered 259.5 yards per game over the final quarter of their season.
Incumbent starter Brandon Carr and former first-round pick Marlon Humphrey are expected to fill the Ravens' top two cornerback roles. Humphrey was responsible for the second-lowest passer rating allowed among rookie cornerbacks when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Smith has a history of injuries on the field and incidents off it. Cited for third-degree assault and two underage-drinking violations at Colorado, he fell to the Ravens near the bottom of the first round of the 2011 draft. 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.
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The following year, in the wake of the team’s handling of former running back Ray Rice, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome said the organization would look to avoid acquiring players with domestic violence in their background.