In August, per Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, Smith told reporters he was going to retire after the 2015 season.
There had been signs Smith was reconsidering his decision to step away from the NFL. His agent, Derrick Fox, told ESPN.com's Jim Trotter (via Sarah Ellison of Ravens.com) in October that it was a tossup:
I'm not 51 percent or 49 percent. I'm right at 50 percent. ... I know this guy better than anybody but his wife. I've told him, 'I don't think that you're really going to retire.' The guy is just an insane competitor, and I think as long as his body works appropriately he's really going to have a hard time next August saying, 'Oh, wow. Guys are going to camp.' He's never experienced it in his entire life, and he's got a lot left in the tank.
Days after Fox made his comments, Smith's season ended during the Ravens' Week 8 game against San Diego when he tore the Achilles tendon in his right leg after catching a pass.
The 36-year-old was showing no signs of slowing down before getting hurt. His 14.6 yards per reception was his best mark since 2012 with the Carolina Panthers. He racked up 46 catches and 670 yards through seven games, still good enough for second on the Ravens this season.
When considering those numbers, Baltimore Orioles public address announcer Ryan Wagner pointed out it would have been shocking to see Smith walk away:
A guy like Steve Smith doesn't go out on anyone's terms but his own. Stoked to see he's coming back, but it's not at all surprising.— Ryan Wagner (@rwags614) December 30, 2015
This has been a disastrous year for Baltimore (5-10), which will finish under .500 for the first time since 2007. Losing Smith was just the tip of the iceberg for the team, as it suffered other key injuries on the roster—including to starting quarterback Joe Flacco. But the former All-Pro receiver's return is getting the franchise off to an excellent start for 2016.
Given the high level of production Smith still offers, as well as Baltimore's veteran-laden roster, it won't take much for the team to return to form in 2016. He's its big-play weapon who opens up the entire offense, so being able to rely on him next season gives the franchise a strong foundation to build around.