Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the offseason so far happened when the Carolina Panthers released fan favorite Steve Smith. The uproar coming from Panthers fans was so intense and loud, it could be heard cross country. And for good reason, as Smith is perhaps the most famous and beloved player in team history. This, in spite of his penchant for punching teammates in the face.
After Smith was released, fans resorted to calling GM Dave Gettleman a number of colorful names and questioned, among other things, his intelligence. But did he make the right move? After all, some of the more successful teams in the NFL seem to know when to cut the cord on an aging player whose production is declining, a.k.a. the New England Patriots.
The numbers certainly support the move. 2013 represented a third straight year of decline for Smith as he posted a mediocre line – 64 receptions for 745 yards with a ho-hum 4 touchdowns. His average yards per reception was 11.6, the third lowest of his career.
In addition to the numbers, Smith is well known for his fiery nature. While this nature has branded him as a team leader and a motivator, it has also boiled over at times. You kind of get the sense that Smith was respected in the locker room in Carolina, but that no one is too terribly broken up over his departure.
So we can’t really blame the Panthers and Gettleman for cutting Smith, but will his signing by the Ravens lead to a renaissance of sorts? On the surface, it seems like the Ravens are simply trying to plug the leadership and toughness hole created by letting Anquan Boldin walk the previous offseason. Both are physical receivers who fight for the ball and move the chains.
Early whispers out of OTAs are quite positive. Smith’s fire and intensity show up well on the practice field, and always have. He holds his teammates accountable and pushes them to their limits. He is in your face and unapologetic. Much like how coaches become stale over time by delivering the same message, Smith perhaps became a little too intense for his teammates and coaching staff in Carolina.
So we know that Smith will bring a new found intensity to the field in Baltimore, but how will he fare in the stats column? I predict that his numbers will be very similar to 2013. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is going to run the ball into the ground and use the run to set up the play action, deep passing game. Smith is a willing blocker and will be a good fit for this scheme.
Kubiak’s system will play to the strengths of both Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith. Flacco has a big arm, and T. Smith can get behind defensive backs with ease. Steve Smith, at 35 years old, just doesn’t have that kind of speed anymore but can be quite useful as a second or third option along with tight ends Owen Daniels and Dennis Pitta.
So in this case, I don’t really think it’s fair to measure Steve Smith’s success in Baltimore by looking at stats alone. He is going to provide the intangibles and the fundamental football contributions that the team needs to get over the hump. And if he simply contributes in those ways, his tenure in black and purple will be a successful one.
How big of an impact do you think Steve Smith will make in Baltimore?