Ron Rivera Thinks Steve Smith Should Retire A Panther
Surrounding news cameras focused in to capture the momentous occasion.
Everyone watched as Steve Smith Sr. stopped several times to compose himself. His voice cracked and he held back tears as the emotions about playing in his 219th and final NFL game were bubbling over.
What cameras didn't pick up were the thousands of fans – from Carolina, Baltimore and around the NFL – who were probably just as emotional as Smith. It's hard to see an illustrious career come to an end, and a unique personality and a beloved competitor walk away.
As such, everyone wants to claim him as their own.
It didn't take long for questions to surface about whether Smith will retire a Panther or Raven. Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera made it clear where he stands on the topic.
"That's up to Steve," Rivera told ESPN's David Newton. "I think he should [retire a Panther], though. Think of all the years he played here. But it's up to him."
Of course, this isn't Major League Baseball where players are inducted into the Hall of Fame attached to a team. NFL players don't officially retire with a single franchise. However, they can sign a one-day contract with the club they feel most embodies their careers. There's no legal, financial or Hall of Fame effect, but it can be a symbolic gesture that reflects how a player feels inside, especially if they left one organization where they spent a significant amount of time to head elsewhere.
Baltimore recently witnessed Jarret Johnson sign a one-day contract with an accompanying press conference in which he "retired a Raven." It clearly meant a lot to Johnson, the organization and Ravens fans.
It could make sense for Smith to do the same with Carolina, where he was drafted and played 13 of his 16 NFL seasons. He set Panthers franchise records for receptions (836), receiving yards (12,197) and receiving touchdowns (67). Smith is one of the all-time great Panthers.
"[T]here's only one logical team to have his name attached to on the retirement papers. Carolina," wrote Newton.
But Smith also left Carolina on a sour note.
His strained relationship with quarterback Cam Newton partly led to his dismissal by General Manager Dave Gettleman. Smith had harsh words for Gettleman after his release, and vowed "blood and guts" in his first game against the Panthers after signing with the Ravens in 2014. Despite it all, Smith has always spoken highly of Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson.
In the end, Smith doesn't have to fill in the blank and "retire a __." He could use Wednesday's press conference as his goodbye to the NFL.
"[E]ven though Smith's offseason home remains in the city where he was drafted in 2001, he can carry a big grudge for such a little fella," wrote Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt. "So while Rivera might like it if Smith eventually comes back for the honor he deserves, he's absolutely right in that the decision will be made by Smith alone."
Ravens In Familiar, Tough Position Of Finding Replacement For Top Receiver
The Ravens have been in this position before.
With Smith's impending retirement, the organization will head into the offseason looking to replace a fiery, one-of-a-kind receiver, who is quarterback Joe Flacco's most reliable weapon.
"The free-agent signing of Smith more than two years ago helped rectify one of the biggest mistakes in Ravens history," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "But his [retirement] puts the franchise back in an all-too-familiar position.
"He may not have enjoyed the same team success in his three seasons in purple, but Smith put up similar numbers to those produced by Anquan Boldin, the man he eventually replaced after a post-Super Bowl XLVII trade blew up in the Ravens' faces in the 2013 season."
On the list of the Ravens' offseason priorities, one would expect replacing Smith to be somewhere near the top. The receiver that plays a similar physical role, Kamar Aiken, is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
That means the returning receivers currently on the roster will be Michael Campanaro, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and rookie Chris Moore. While each brings something different to the table, the latter three are all somewhat built in the same mold as speedy outside threats.
Jones sees Wallace best fitting as a No. 2 receiver. He doesn't foresee Aiken returning after a diminished role in 2016. Campanaro needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season. Perriman and Moore are young developing players who are still finding their way.
That leaves the No. 1 receiver role open.
"Whether General Manager Ozzie Newsome pursues an accomplished veteran such as Pierre Garcon in free agency or once again dips his toes into draft waters that have been unkind in the past, the Ravens will need a receiver to aggressively work the intermediate portion of the field and to gain yards after the catch," Jones wrote.
But there's more to what Smith brings to the table than just physically working the middle of the field. The Ravens can surely find a receiver that fits that mold. It's the leadership and fire that will be more difficult to find.
"Like Boldin, he provided attitude to an offense led by the even-keeled Flacco. His intensity occasionally ruffled feathers," wrote Jones. "Smith brought the kind of swagger to the offense that was typically found on many Ravens defenses of yesteryear. Of course, performance on the field is paramount, but that ferocity is something Baltimore frankly needs more of after missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. The intangibles will be difficult to replace, no matter how the Ravens go about replacing Smith's production."
Should Ravens Lose For A Higher Draft Pick?
If the season ended today, the Ravens would have the No. 17 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
"However, that number will change depending on what happens in Week 17," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "The Ravens are one of five teams with eight wins. Four teams have seven victories while another four have nine. So a lot still has to be sorted out there."
The teams that currently have the same record as the Ravens are the Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Depending on the results of the NFL's season finale with these five teams, Baltimore's draft position could swing several spots up or down the board.
And that doesn't even* *take into account the eight teams that are currently either one game ahead or behind the Ravens. Wins and losses in those games will also affect the final draft board.
As such, the notion of intentionally losing against the Cincinnati Bengals has surfaced around town.
Garrett Downing will have more on the topic later today in Final Drive, but I can tell you the Ravens were adamant about winning Sunday.
"No, that's bad advice [to lose for a higher draft pick] because you don't want to develop that kind of character," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You don't want to develop that kind of habit. That's just a terrible idea. We're going to fight. We've always been fighters. … For a man that's on the back nine of his career, all of my Sundays count. So, all of my games count, especially to me. So I'm not losing to get higher draft picks."