Ravens Sign Steve Smith: Grading the Move and What It Means for Baltimore

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVMarch 14, 2014

USA Today

ESPN's Adam Schefter confirmed on Friday that the Baltimore Ravens have signed free-agent wide receiver Steve Smith to a three-year deal.

Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun shared the financial details of the contract later Friday: 

Baltimore was the first team Smith met with since the Carolina Panthers released him on Thursday, and the belief was that the Ravens were going to make the effort to sign him before he left. Indeed, they accomplished their goal.

This signing is a major upgrade for Baltimore's receiving corps, which for the most part is young and inexperienced. Aside from deep threat Torrey Smith and recently re-signed tight end Dennis Pitta, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was facing yet another year with the likes of Jacoby Jones and the still-developing undrafted Marlon Brown as his targets.

Smith brings with him a much-needed veteran presence to Baltimore's offense, as well as a physical style of play that was missing in 2013 after the team traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers. Though Smith will turn 35 years old in May and had a lingering left knee sprain that affected his production in 2013, this signing is a massive upgrade at wide receiver. 

Years on the Field: Steve Smith vs. Ravens Top Receivers
Steve Smith13 Seasons
Torrey Smith3 Seasons
Jacoby Jones7 Seasons
Marlon Brown1 Season
Dennis Pitta4 Seasons*
*Pitta caught one pass his rookie season

Smith's 13 seasons in Carolina, which included five trips to the Pro Bowl, amount to more experience than the major players in Baltimore's receiving corps have combined. Further, his fiery on- and off-field attitude makes him an immediate leader on his new team and will give the offense the aggressiveness it plainly lacked in a subpar 2013 season.

Clearly, his personality was a draw for the Ravens, as Smith noted in his introductory conference call on Friday:

In 182 regular-season games, he has caught 836 passes for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns. Smith has 12 career fumbles—six of them lost—but he hasn't turned the ball over since 2011.

He was instrumental to the development of current Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who is entering the fourth year of his career, and in turn had a renaissance of his own. Smith went from having just 554 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 2010 to 1,394 yards and seven scores in Newton's rookie season in 2011. He is a rare sort of receiver who seems to have gotten better with age—aided of course by the help of a talented quarterback.

For that reason, he should fit perfectly in Baltimore's offense. Flacco, when on top of his game, is just as good (if not better) than Newton. And, like Newton, he is made better by having good receivers to throw to.

Like former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, Smith knows how to physically fight for every yard.
Like former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, Smith knows how to physically fight for every yard.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Smith caught 62.1 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2013, while the best-performing Ravens wideout, Brown, caught 59 percent. Just that 3 percent increase in catches can make the difference between a drive staying alive or stalling out. 

Much like Boldin before him, Smith has made up for his age-related decline in speed by being a physical, possession-style receiver. He's not a deep threat like Torrey Smith—of Newton's 64 pass attempts of 20 or more yards last year, only 13 went to Smith.

He's not a slot receiver either; he ran just 15.5 percent of his 475 routes out of the slot in 2013.

Smith is a solid wideout with an incredible depth of experience and an impressive amount left in his tank for his age and the time he's spent on the field. His presence will allow for Flacco to more easily spread the ball around as well as exponentially increase the intimidation factor of the offense.

After all, Smith promised "blood and guts" should he face the Panthers with his new team. The Ravens are slated to play Carolina this season, and that motivation should reverberate through all 16 games for him. If his intensity can rub off on his fellow wideouts, his value will be far greater to the Ravens than his $11 million contract.

Grade: A


Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required).