After 13 years with the Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith wanted to be wined and dined by several teams during a free agency tour. It was a new opportunity for a longtime veteran.
But Baltimore was just too convincing to leave.
With a trip to New England already scheduled and a handful of other teams also interested, Smith came to Baltimore first late Thursday night, hours after being released by the Panthers.
A marathon recruiting session went until about 4 p.m. Friday, when Smith agreed to a three-year contract with the Ravens. It’s worth $11.5 million with a $3.5 million signing bonus, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Smith turns 35 in May and is on the tail end of his career. But his body of work speaks for itself. He’ll help fill the void left by trading Anquan Boldin last offseason.
For Smith, the Ravens present an opportunity to compete for a title and provide a well-fitting an appealing offensive system, good balance of youth and experience and a strong coaching staff.
“Everything seemed to gel,” Smith said.
“I really felt like after sitting here that this is the place that I felt best would fit me and they convinced me that I would fit in here very well.”
Smith talked with Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick while at the airport Friday Thursday night, and that both parties were interested in each other. But due to weather issues, Belichick said they couldn’t get Smith up to visit until Monday. Smith planned on going then.
Smith also had an offer on the table from the San Diego Chargers, the Seahawks were interested and the Washington Redskins wanted to have him in for a visit since he was already in the area.
“But it’s not really a value of how many other teams were in the mix,” Smith said. “The part and the thing that’s the most important is I found a home that seems to want me, and I wanted them.”
The Ravens have been looking for a receiver like Smith for over a year. They sorely lacked the tenacity, reliability and productivity of from Boldin last season.
Smith brings all of that.
He has notched 1,000 receiving yards or more in seven of his 13 NFL career seasons. He’s fourth among active NFL pass catchers in career yardage (12,197), trailing only Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne and Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Banged up by injuries last year, Smith’s stats dipped to 64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns. That still would have given him more catches and yards than any Ravens wide receiver except
In 2012, Steve Smith caught 73 passes for 1,174 yards and four scores. In 2011, he logged 79 catches for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns, earning his fifth Pro Bowl selection.
He’s durable, and willing to play through bumps and bruises. Besides the 2003 season, in which he was out 15 games, the former third-round pick out of Utah (2001) has missed only 11 games in his other 12 seasons.
Smith anticipates being a No. 2 receiver in Baltimore, helping others such as wide receiver Torrey Smith break out. He said Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s offense is a good fit and will allow many different players to get their touches.
Smith has the savvy, quickness and power to break press coverage. He plays well in the slot and still flashes big-play potential. He averaged 16.1 yards per catch in 2012 and 17.6 in 2011.
But more than the numbers or production, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh talked about Smith’s toughness. The Ravens want to get more attitude back in their offense.
“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” Newsome said. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability and leadership to our team.”
“Steve is a Ravens-style football player,” Harbaugh added. “He always has been in our eyes, it’s just that he’s been playing for another team.”
Smith doesn’t have the build of Boldin. Boldin is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds while Smith is 5-foot-9, 185. But they are similarly extremely competitive. Smith didn’t want to compare himself to Boldin, however.
He said one thing that sold him on Baltimore is that everyone, especially Harbaugh, told him to be himself. Wide receiver
“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out,” Smith said of Boldin. “But we’re also individuals, and so I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.
“I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.”
Smith said Baltimore attracted him because the Ravens have a track record of integrating older players with younger players, providing an opportunity to mentor. He likes that Baltimore is a short flight from his family’s residence in Charlotte. He “loves” Harbaugh, and likes that new Wide Receivers Coach Bobby Engram is a former receiver himself. He even said he loves the uniforms.
“I just love everything that it is to be a Baltimore Raven,” Smith said. “So I’m looking forward to experiencing it all."