As he heads into his ninth season, Jimmy Smith is the Ravens' longest-tenured defensive starter. But even he wasn't sure if he'd be around this year.
Like many folks around Baltimore, Smith was shocked when he saw Terrell Suggs leave ("He's the Ravens."). As the highest-paid player on the team – $15.85 million, per Spotrac – Smith could have landed elsewhere too.
He said he got no offseason assurances from the front office that his roster spot was safe, and there was widespread media speculation that he could be asked to take a pay cut, released or traded.
But minicamp is here, and so is Smith. And both sides are better for it. Asked if there was a time when he thought he might not return, Smith grinned.
"I don't know. I read some of your articles, and that's what it said, but I thought maybe I would be here," Smith said.
"The Ravens know how much I love them, and I know how much the Ravens love me, and I went through some stuff. It could have easily gone both ways, so I'm excited and happy to still be here."
Drafted in the first round in 2011, Smith was a hero in the Ravens' goal-line Super Bowl XLVII stand in his second season and a player the organization has always had a lot of faith in. Baltimore also loved Torrey Smith, who was drafted one round after Jimmy, but Torrey has been on three teams since that Super Bowl victory.
"After you get your second contract here, you hope to stay, but to actually reach the end of it – this is my last year in it – so to reach the end of it is an accomplishment for me," Jimmy Smith said.
Smith has been through a lot in Baltimore. There have been countless injuries, including a torn Achilles that ended a potential Pro Bowl 2017 campaign early. He was suspended for the first four games of last season for violating the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
The Ravens have stuck with Smith, and whenever he's been able to play, he has rewarded their loyalty. Smith got stronger as last year went on and ended it with a pair of interceptions in the AFC North-clinching win over the Browns. By season's end, he was his usual shutdown self.
The key, as always, is to make sure he stays on the field.
"Jimmy, man, he's gotten better since I've been here, every single year," said the Ravens' "Ironman" veteran cornerback Brandon Carr. "Just trying to keep him healthy, just keeping that lockdown status. I think he's been a guy that has proven himself in this organization for a very long time. I'm just excited to go back to work with him this year."
Smith revamped his nutrition last year and it paid off with his healthiest season in years. He played in every game he could for the first time since 2015. He's played a full season just twice in his career.
That training and diet regimen has rolled into this season. He hasn't cut out his Friday "cheat day" entirely, but he's much more mindful of what he puts into his body.
"When you're young, you can eat chicken wings, hot wings, pizza, then go out and play a game and there's no problem," Smith said. "The older you get, you start to actually feel like one candy bar kind of slowed me down today."
Now healthy this offseason and clear of mind, Smith hopes that after hitting 31 years old next month, he can be the best version of himself in 2019.
"I feel like a father of three right now," Smith said with a laugh. "I feel great, though, to be honest. It's a full offseason of being healthy, and every year I say the same. I'm actually healthy. I'm doing well, and I'm looking forward to doing well this year."
Smith will be the league's second-highest paid cornerback this season, only trailing Detroit's Darius Slay, who has gone to the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons. Largely because of injuries, Smith hasn't received that notoriety yet.
Those in Baltimore know how valuable Smith is, but the league hasn't shown the same appreciation. With a big salary cap hit next to his name, the expectations for Smith are high.
"I always want to show that [I'm worth it], but I'd rather just let my play speak," Smith said. "Words aren't going to do anything for me. At the end of the, hopefully, 20 games, 24 games this year, we can sit here and say, 'Hey, I did exactly what I wanted to do.'"
Smith said reaching his first Pro Bowl and getting more than five interceptions are two individual goals he has this year. Another big one is to make sure the Ravens' defense, and the secondary in particular, stay atop the league.
Having Smith back to join forces with Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young and other talented cornerbacks – not to mention Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson at safety – should go a long way in making that a reality.
With Smith, the Ravens have the potential for a special secondary this year. What will happen next year after his contract runs out?
"That's going to play itself out," Smith said. "The Ravens know I always want to be here, but whatever happens, happens. I know I can still play the game, so if I'm here, I'll be obviously grateful. If not, I'll continue my career somewhere else."