Steve Smith Sr. entered 2015 on a retirement run, but after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 8 at the top of his game, the soon-to-be 37-year-old announced last Wednesday he’ll return next season.
And in typical form as one of the game’s most vocally passionate, he had a message to skeptics doubting he can regain form following such a gruesome injury, per Ryan Mink of the Baltimore Ravens' official website:
When I started to put up good numbers, you guys told me, ‘Well, he’ll tail off.’ What you need to do is just let me play and quit commenting about my play, because every time you all tell me something I can’t do, then you have a reason for why I’m doing it. … Just let me play. Quit asking me what I’m going to put up. I’m going to put up the numbers I put up and contribute the way I contribute at age 37.
Smith told Mink he started thinking of a possible return in 2016 before the team's Week 2 game against the Oakland Raiders. The league's oldest receiver also said he won't rush his rehab to get back:
We talked about it off and on from [Week 2]. Obviously, when I got hurt, [we] sat down and decided, ‘What do you want to do?’ After I sobered up from the operation and dealing with all that, we talked about it and had a feel of what I wanted to do.
I won’t be ahead of schedule. If anything, to be safe, I’ll be behind schedule. With an injury like this, you don’t want to be ahead of schedule. That takes away a lot of stuff.
At the time of his injury, Smith ranked among the top 10 in catches (46) and receiving yards (670), prompting speculation after his rocket-fire start that he’d come back in 2016 even before he suffered his injury.
But after his devastating blow, Smith finally made the announcement last Wednesday he’d return via Twitter:
Steve Smith Sr @89SteveSmith
Wit the blessing of My Family, Friends & Fans!! 2016 Let's give'em Hell 😂 #SmithWPMOYChallenge #SmithWPMOYChallenge https://t.co/RxBQMHGLT22015-12-30 17:04:13
The long-awaited announcement didn’t come as a surprise to his teammates.
"He's not the type of guy to go out like that,” offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele said, courtesy Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. "Obviously, we can't wait to have him back. I know he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and he's going to dominate because that's the type of person he is. … I knew as soon as he got injured he was going to be back. That's just Steve. He didn't come here to go out like that."
Smith is entering the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million contract, and he is slated to earn $3 million in 2016, per Spotrac.
The Ravens finished an underachieving 5-11 after dealing with a slew of injuries aside from Smith’s.
They have the talent and leadership to succeed—as they’ve shown throughout head coach John Harbaugh’s eight-year tenure—meaning they should rebound in 2016 once everyone, particularly Smith, is back at full strength.