Eisenberg: Examining the Long-Term Effects of Jimmy Smith's Absence


If Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith hadn't suffered a season-ending Achilles injury Sunday, Monday's news about his PED suspension would have hit Baltimore like a thunderbolt.

It wouldn't have entirely ruined the good vibe generated by the Ravens' best win of the season and their improving playoff chances, but the prospect of them going forward without their best cornerback would have turned a lot of smiles upside down.

As it happened, though, there was little reaction because everyone had already grown accustomed to the idea of subtracting Smith from the Ravens' equation after his Achilles gave out the day before. In that sense, it was kind of a non-story.

That doesn't mean the Ravens just shrugged off the news. A four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs isn't a good look for Smith. I'm sure the Ravens aren't happy to see one of their highest-paid players get popped.

But honestly, I don't think they're going to be that upset. My hunch is they view Smith like they did Haloti Ngata, their former star who was suspended for a PED policy violation in 2014. They saw Ngata not as a serial user, but as a guy who just made a mistake. Ngata has never been suspended again, and the Ravens, I suspect, believe Smith's story could follow a similar arc.

Smith's injury is a more important development, certain to have long-term ramifications for him, the Ravens and their secondary.

I've already read and heard it speculated that the Ravens will just cut Smith before next season because he turns 30 in July, has two years left on his huge contract and suffered an injury that threatens his agility. To be clear, that speculation is strictly external, from outside the organization.

It's all a bit cold-hearted for me considering Smith just went down. And the chances of the Ravens parting ways with Smith before next season are extremely small. I'd be shocked.

In terms of his availability next season, he's likely to be out from nine to 12 months, casting doubts about his ability to start early in 2018. He'll spend the offseason rehabbing rather than fine-tuning his game. When he had the latter opportunity for the first time in a while this year because he finally was healthy, it made a big difference, as he was performing at an All-Pro level. Now he'll be set back.

But while the Ravens do have quality alternatives after stockpiling cornerbacks in the draft and free agency over the past few years, they don't have another cornerback of Smith's caliber. Losing him is a blow. Opposing offenses pretty much gave up on trying his side of the field this season. Now they can use the whole field again.

Throw in the fact that cutting Smith would generate a whopping $13.35 million in "dead money" against the salary cap in 2018, according to Spotrac, and it seems clear the Ravens will stick with him and hope he comes back better than ever.

Meanwhile, Smith's absence throws wide open a window of opportunity for Marlon Humphrey, who will take over Smith's starting job, and other young cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady, Tavon Young and Jaylen Hill, all of whom the Ravens really like.

The Ravens drafted Humphrey last spring with the idea that he would quickly become a permanent part of their defensive architecture, and that process could accelerate now. With his obvious talent, there may be no going back.

Smith's injury also raises the likelihood that the team will stick with Brandon Carr, who has played well in his first season in Baltimore and offers a stable presence, having started every game of his pro career, which began in 2008.

Beyond Carr and Humphrey, Canady is looking like a steal as a 2016 sixth-round pick, and Young opened eyes as a rookie.

After paying the price for Smith's myriad injuries in recent years, the Ravens finally planned for the possibility that they'd lose him again. Then they did lose him. That in itself offers a commentary on what could be a changing situation at cornerback in the coming years.

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