This past offseason, Torrey Smith had an honest conversation with Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome about his future, or lack thereof, in Baltimore.
The Ravens weren't going to be able to afford what Smith was going to be offered on the free-agent market. They were letting him leave.
"I was about to cry like a baby talking to him," Smith said.
Smith quickly became one of the franchise's all-time fan favorites in just his four seasons. On Sunday, Smith will face his former team for the first time as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
As much as Smith wanted to paint the picture that it'll be just another game, it was clear that it won't.
Smith said he still considers Baltimore to be home, and he still has close ties with players that wear purple and black, including the man that will be covering him on Sunday, cornerback Jimmy Smith.
Torrey was drafted by the Ravens in the second round in 2011, one round after Jimmy. The local boy and University of Maryland standout quickly became a featured playmaker in the offense and beloved team member.
It didn't hurt that he caught a franchise record seven touchdowns as a rookie, or beat the Steelers with a game-winning catch that same year. Smith was an integral part of the Ravens' Super Bowl run, particularly with two touchdowns against Denver in the AFC divisional round. He put up 1,128 receiving yards in a breakout third season and posted a career-high 11 touchdowns in his final year with the team.
But it wasn't just what Smith did on the field that made him stand out. He was extremely active in the community and his smile, outgoing personality, professionalism and work ethic exemplified what the organization looks for in a player.
There were some within the organization that couldn't imagine Smith going elsewhere. But when push came to shove, the Ravens just didn't have the money to afford him, and Smith signed a reported five-year, $40 million deal with the 49ers.
Smith said he understood that the NFL is a tough business, and that means not letting emotions get involved when it comes to such free-agency decisions.
"But it's tough when the Ravens organization changed my life and changed my family's life," Smith said. "I'll always be thankful for what they did for me. I still can't pay them back to this day."
The change at wide receiver hasn't worked out for either side on the field so far this season.
Smith has gotten off to a slow start in San Francisco. He's started just two of five games he's played in and made 11 catches for 227 yards and one touchdown – a 75-yard score that makes up about a third of his yardage this season.
San Francisco Head Coach Jim Tomsula said the 49ers are focused on getting Smith more involved.
Smith was caught looking dejected, alongside fellow former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, during a 17-3 49ers loss to the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago. Smith said it's been tough feeling like he can contribute more, and his emotions got the best of him that game.
Meanwhile, the Ravens could use a speedy wide receiver like Smith at a time like this. Baltimore drafted Breshad Perriman in the first round, trying to fill Smith's shoes, but Perriman suffered a knee injury on the first day of training camp and hasn't run full speed since.
Baltimore has lacked the deep vertical threat Smith provides all season long, eventually leading to the trade for Chris Givens last week. Givens, however, is just now building chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco. Flacco reminisced a bit about his weapons last year with Steve Smith Sr. on one side and Torrey Smith on the other.
"It's kind of like pick you poison – get beat over the top by Torrey or get beat to death over the course of the game with Steve," Flacco said. "I think we're working towards that. And I think at the end of the day, that is what speed gives you."
But Smith said he doesn't think about still being with the Ravens. He's happy for those who have gotten a chance without him around, including* *wide receivers Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown. Smith, Aiken and Brown are still in a group text chat, still exchanging jokes.
"We're all still very tight, but I'm playing for a different team; and I'm thankful to be out here," Smith said.
Off the field, Smith said he's enjoying himself. He said growing up in Virginia, going to college at the University of Maryland and getting his first job up the road in Baltimore was "special," but he was ready for a change of scenery. He said he also gets more time with his family.
"To take me out of my comfort zone, I think it has made me grow a lot in a different way," Smith said. "And I've also been able to spend a lot more time with my wife and my child and focus on that without as many distractions. My mind has been very clear out here, so I'm thankful for that."
Smith said he still roots* *for the Ravens, especially when playing against the other NFC West teams, "but if it's between me and them, I'm rolling with my team all day."
Smith will sometimes line up opposite the man he came into the league with in Jimmy Smith. It seemed like just yesterday when the two, as they were introduced to the Baltimore media and fans for the first time after the draft, realized they each shared the same legal name, "James Smith."
Each player described the other as a "brother."
"It's going to be fun," Jimmy said. "I know his moves, he knows my moves. It's going to be fun out there. I'm pretty sure we're going to have some plays where we're just laughing at each other at the end."
"Baltimore is still home for me," Torrey said. "So, when I come back home, I go see Jimmy or 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] or somebody, it'll be nice to have some bragging rights."