Once a Raven, always a Raven. Cornerback Jimmy Smith officially announced his retirement from the NFL today at a press conference flanked by Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Eric DeCosta.
A first-round pick in 2011, Smith spent his entire 11-year career (2011-2021) with Baltimore and was one of the league's top cornerbacks in his prime – physical, smart, tough and able to shutdown top receivers one-on-one. He finished his career with 374 tackles, 74 passes defensed, 14 interceptions and three touchdowns.
With family members, friends, and former teammates and coaches in the audience, Smith reflected on a career that was challenging and rewarding, and lasting 11 years in the NFL is a testament to his determination to succeed through good times and bad.
Smith reflected on the lessons taught to him by his father, who would play catch with Smith when he was a child, and would always throw the ball to his son with plenty of force.
"I asked him, 'Why did you used to try to kill me,'" Smith said. "He said, 'I just wanted to see when you were going to quit, but you never did.'
"It was such a lesson for me. Playing corner, you're about to face some dudes that are going to come after you. One thing that my dad instilled in me very young was, no matter how much tougher it gets, you just keep going."
Smith produced one of the franchise's signature moments in Super Bowl XLVII in only his second season. With the Ravens clinging to a 34-31 lead late in the game, Smith preserved the victory over San Francisco by making back-to-back stops on the goal line during the 49ers' final drive.
Early in that Super Bowl season, Smith suffered a sports hernia and was relegated to special teams when he first returned. Smith was frustrated in that role, but Harbaugh knew what the young corner was capable of, and predicted he would play a bigger role come playoff time.
"I believe I said, 'You stick with this, you keep pushing through this, and by the end of the season you're going to make us the play that wins the Super Bowl,'" Harbaugh said.
"This is not a lie," Smith said, looking at Harbaugh and smiling.
At 6-foot-2, rangy and athletic, Smith could defend a variety of receivers and Baltimore's secondary was always better with him on the field. However, Smith was willing to sacrifice his body to make plays, and injuries took a major toll on him throughout his career.
Staying healthy became Smith's biggest obstacle. He missed at least four games in seven of his 11 seasons and some of his most serious injuries included a sports hernia in 2012, and a season-ending Lisfranc foot fracture in 2014 when Smith was playing the best football of career. Eventually, the injuries chased Smith from the game.
"I've been through too many," Smith said. "It was always an uphill climb for me, trying to get back to who I was before. It was a battle early on, and the older you get it becomes tougher. I'm kind of over just having to battle back, constantly."
Smith suffered a severe ankle sprain in training camp last season but gutted through the year, appearing in 10 games and making two starts. He knew the end of his career was near and was looking forward to spending more time with his family.
"I've got three boys and now a girl," Smith said near the end of last season. "With the boys, they're old enough I can start getting them into sports. They're getting active. I've got time to figure out stuff long-term. I'm in no rush to get to work or anything. I don't have to, so that's a blessing."
The possibility of extending his career with another team never appealed to Smith. Smith had some "orange flags" on his resume coming out of college, but the Ravens drafted him in the first round and stuck with him, through the injuries and off-field troubles he sometimes had to work through. He matured in the process, and wanted to keep his football family around him. Smith said his career with the Ravens "epitomized loyalty" on both sides.
He entered the NFL as a Raven and was determined to leave the NFL as a Raven. On Monday, he made that wish a reality.
"I'm very proud of the fact I got to stay here," Smith said. "They believed in me."