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Late For Work 12/31: Two Things You Must Know About Steve Smith's Return

Posted Dec 31, 2015

Osemele playing in final game as a Raven? Big development happening under radar. Za'Darius vs. Pernell.


Two Things You Must Know About Smith's Return

There are two things you should know about the return of Steve Smith Sr. in 2016:

1)      This is awesome news.

2)      The Ravens shouldn’t bank on him as the No. 1 receiver.

Seriously, what’s not to like about Smith coming back?

The NFL world is quite simply more fun with him in it, and Baltimoreans get to watch him “give’em hell” during his comeback tour. Smith is entertaining, full of brilliant one-liners, tough as nails, an ultimate team player, and one of the greatest receivers, not only of this era, but of all-time.

“If you're in a war, there's no better guy that you want on your sideline with you in that war," said teammate Marshal Yanda.

We’ll also witness greatness as Smith almost assuredly will continue to pass some of the best receivers to ever play the game.

Provided he’s healthy enough, Smith will have the opportunity to join Jerry Rice as the only players with 1,000 receiving yards in a season after turning 37, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. He’s also just 39 catches short of 1,000 for his career. Only 13 players have ever reached that milestone.

“No matter how high Smith climbs on the career receiving charts, he should be a lead-pipe lock for the Hall of Fame in six years,” wrote NFL Media’s Chris Wesseling.

Oh, and while Smith is potentially rewarding Baltimore with all of the above, the risk isn’t very high. He’ll be playing in the final season of his three-year deal, reportedly worth the bargain price of $3 million in base salary.

“His roster spot is a no-brainer for a Baltimore team lacking stability at wide receiver,” wrote Wesseling.

You see? His return really is awesome news.

Can you sense the “but” coming?

Buuuuuuut, the Ravens should still work to deliver even better news.

“What would be better news for fans is the Ravens announcing that Smith's return won't be the team's biggest move at that position,” wrote ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. “No one can assume that Smith is going to be the same top-notch playmaking receiver. … Getting Smith back should be considered a bonus, not the answer.”

Smith is a hard player to doubt, but Hensley reminds us of his age and injury. Is it fair to expect him to put up another 1,000-yard season? Sure, he could do it, but can you bank on it?

As Jerry Maguire would say, “Help me, help you.” In other words, help Smith help the Ravens by adding more pieces around him. Even when Smith was in the fold, without many other playmakers, the Ravens were still 1-6.

Plus, Baltimore has been down this road before. The Ravens put all their chips in on Smith and rookie Breshad Perriman, and the 15-year veteran played half the year while the first-round pick never got on the field.

“Baltimore needs to learn from this year's lesson,” Hensley wrote. “There was no contingency plan beyond an aging receiver and an inexperienced one. That cost the Ravens and Joe Flacco in 2015.

“The Ravens need to copy what has been done in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and build a deep receiving group. Whether it's free agency or high in the draft, Baltimore has to bring in another playmaking receiver to a [trio] that includes Smith, Perriman and Kamar Aiken, who has surprisingly stepped up in the second half of the season.”

Osemele Playing In Final Game As A Raven?

Sunday could potentially be offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele’s final game as a Baltimore Raven. He becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and is in line for a big payday.

Some team is going to pay Osemele well,” wrote CSNMidatlantic.com’s Clifton Brown. “Whether it will be the Ravens, or someone else, remains to be seen.”

When asked whether he thinks this could be his farewell in the purple and black, Osemele made it clear that he’s only approaching Sunday as a season finale and nothing more.

He sounded open to staying in Baltimore however, and shared a story about a warm exchange between himself and General Manager Ozzie Newsome. It was Newsome who gave Osemele more self-assurance about moving from left guard to left tackle.

"Ozzie did a really good job of encouraging me,” Osemele said. “The guy’s a visionary – he watched a lot of film. I was confident that he was confident. Him letting me know that this wasn’t anything random, that he knows what he’s doing.”

The two were also positive about a future together. Osemele likes the idea of staying in Baltimore because he knows Newsome will always surround him with other great players. And based off the way Osemele has played during this late-season experiment on the blindside, Newsome might like K.O. there permanently.

But the issue this offseason isn’t fit, it’s price.

“The situation is fluid with Osemele, an impending 26-year-old free agent who has made a smooth late-season transition from left guard to left tackle,” wrote Brown. “Will the Ravens re-sign Osemele and part with left tackle Eugene Monroe, who is coming off recent shoulder surgery and his second straight injury-plagued season?

“Or will the Ravens save money by letting Osemele walk, and sticking with Monroe, who still has three years remaining on his five-year, $37.5 million contract?”

Big Development Happening Under The Radar

While all the focus on the offensive line has been on Osemele, there’s another major development happening that is hardly getting any attention.

Just like Osemele has been successful in his tryout at a new position, Ryan Jensen has filled the hole at left guard, and he’s been equally impressive. The major difference between the two, however, is Jensen is under contract next year.

Jensen provides insurance, along with John Urschel, in case Osemele leaves or even moves to left tackle.

“[A] sixth-round pick in 2013 out of Colorado State-Pueblo, [Jensen] could become the latest late-round or undrafted player to flourish under Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec.

“There’s been a lot of talk of the Ravens potentially using their first-round pick on an offensive tackle. But you have to wonder if Castillo’s history of developing much less-heralded offensive linemen could prompt the Ravens to hold off on drafting a tackle until the later rounds.”    

Za'Darius Smith vs. Pernell McPhee

Almost immediately after the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in April, the comparisons to Pernell McPhee began. They have similar builds, wear the same jersey number, and even have the same dreadlock hairstyle.

Smith was drafted, in part, to fill the shoes of McPhee, who left via free agency to Chicago last March.

“All the Pernell McPhee comparisons that were made about [Smith] after the Ravens drafted him in the fourth round this year seemed a little much,” wrote Zrebiec. “That is until about three weeks ago.

“Smith is finishing an otherwise quiet rookie season with a flourish.”

Take a look Smith and McPhee’s stats from their rookie seasons (still one game left for Smith), although it’s worth noting that Smith has received more snaps (375 to 306), as McPhee was used more as a pass-rush specialist.

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