The end seems to finally be arriving for long-time NFL star wide receiver, Steve Smith. The Baltimore Ravens star wideout admitted to the media recently that the week 17 regular season finale this Sunday could very well be his final pro football game of his career.
Smith returned for one final go at a Super Bowl this year, following an injury-marred 2015 campaign that was cut short by an Achilles injury.
Despite the devastating injury, Smith returned to full strength during the 2016 regular season and posted solid numbers (67 catches, 765 yards and 5 TDs). Smith’s efforts helped the Ravens get to 8-6 prior to a huge clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers a week ago.
A loss in that game sent the Ravens out of the playoff picture for the second season in a row, and could also be sending off one of the best wide receivers in league history into retirement.
In speaking with the media, Smith suggested there was an “89%” chance he was done with football. After nearly walking away from the game a year ago and set to turn 38 years old in May, the writing could be on the wall that Smith is indeed ready to retire.
Many are bracing for one last “hurrah” out of Smith, as the Ravens have nothing to play for and could attempt to send out their star receiver in style.
Smith currently ranks 7th all-time in total receiving yardage and needs 237 receiving yards to move past legendary receiver Tim Brown for 6th place in league history.
That would be quite the lofty goal for Smith and the Ravens, especially considering Smith has just 100+ yard day on the year (111). The team has nothing to lose by funneling targets Smith’s way, of course, while chasing the next spot in the receiving yardage annals could also help him get over 1,000 receiving yards on the year.
Smith’s final game could potentially play out much like Kobe Bryant’s last game with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was fed the ball and scored 60 points in a win. It won’t be quite as epic even if Smith and the Ravens achieve the mark, but head coach John Harbaugh did allude to a “big game” for Smith early in the week:
Harbaugh said that this week will be “big deal” for Steve Smith Sr., given Sunday could Be his last game.”
Reports suggest Steve Smith played at high enough of a level that the Ravens would still love to have him back, but the franchise also can’t be too sad to look ahead at the wide receiver position.
Mike Wallace was largely a hit through free agency this year, while the team has an exciting array of passing game weapons to develop moving forward. Wallace, Kamar Aiken and second-year receiver Breshad Perriman all could have huge roles going into 2017 and have arguably been held been by Smith’s presence.
The Ravens could also open up the way they use their tight ends going into next season, as the absence of Smith could require more possession targets to Dennis Pitta and get more bodies on the field that possess elite size and maximum catch radius potential.
Smith has continued to be a shifty, speedy asset in the open field, but his age and injuries have held him back at least marginally over the last two seasons (11 missed games). While Smith was impressive in his return from a devastating Achilles injury, there is no guarantee that he’d still be the same player if he returned at age 38, while the risk of injury would likely only be greater.
It remains to be seen if Steve Smith’s retirement decision will actually come to fruition (and stick), but for now, it looks like the Ravens will try to send him out on a high note and cap off a brilliant career.
Should Smith indeed be playing his final downs this Sunday, he’ll be putting the finishing touches on a brilliant 16-year NFL career (13 years with the Panthers) that ahead of week 17 included 1,028 receptions, 14,697 receiving yards and 81 touchdowns.
If Smith somehow didn’t record a single stat against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 17, he’d still finish his time in the league ranked 7th in receiving yardage and 12th in receptions. Were Smith to have a change of heart and return for one more season in 2017, he’d have a realistic shot at cracking the top-10 in career receptions, as well as the top-5 in receiving yardage.
Baltimore’s 2017 Outlook
Despite Baltimore missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, they were in the driver’s seat to win the AFC North for much of the year and only just in week 16 were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
The Ravens have routinely been among the most balanced teams in the NFL under head coach John Harbaugh, and the absence of Steve Smith won’t change that, nor will it dramatically impact their chances at a Super Bowl run in 2017.
In fact, the loss of Smith could actually help the passing game, as more explosive players would see increased roles.
Baltimore maintained a strong defense and still has great coaching and solid quarterback play. If anything, the one blemish has been an inconsistent running game. For the Ravens to take the leap back into the playoffs next season, they need to either piece together a more reliable rushing attack with the collection of running backs they currently have, or find an upgrade in free agency or the draft.
The Ravens would also be well advised to keep adding to their defense, which is showing some age in spots. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil specifically are two players that are getting older and Baltimore could use a youth injection in their pass rush.
Overall, the Ravens bounced back from a horrifying 2015 season that saw them get absolutely mangled via injuries. They were still erratic in 2016, but they remained highly competitive and still played their classic brand of Ravens football. Getting Steve Smith back for one last title run could be fun and even helpful, but it’s not necessary.
The Ravens will look to cap Smith’s brilliant career in fashion and then look ahead to a hopefully more successful 2017 season.
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