Earlier this offseason, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh came to the same conclusion while mulling what type of wide receiver the team needed to help the offense get back on track.
At the time, they had no way of knowing that Steve Smith would eventually become available.
The Ravens have now agreed to terms on a three-year, $11 million contract with the five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver that includes a $3.5 million signing bonus, according to NFL sources.
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The former Carolina Panthers standout's contract has a 2014 base salary of $1 million, a 2015 base salary of $3 million and a 2016 base salary of $3 million along with a $1 million 60 percent playtime one-time incentive clause, according to sources.
"I love the coach [Harbaugh], and I like the offensive scheme," Smith said during a conference call where he also cited the proximity to his family in Charlotte, N.C. "It just had a familiarity in some regards, but then also had a fresh new perspective. Everything seemed to gel, and coach Harbaugh was excellent. We talked about a lot of things and the one thing that they said that was consistent was: 'We want you to be yourself.' That was good, that was very encouraging, I enjoyed that."
The Ravens faced stiff competition for Smith from the New England Patriots, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins. He was offered a contract from the Chargers. Smith was scheduled to visit New England on Monday after getting a recruiting call from Patriots coach Bill Belichick before he arrived in Baltimore.
The Ravens were able to convince Smith to forego pursuing other offers, though.
"I had spoken to coach Belichick personally when I was at the airport on my way to Baltimore," Smith said. "We had a conversation that indicated that they were very interested in me. And I was also open to going there as well, but I really felt like after sitting here that this is the place that I felt would best fit me and they convinced me that I would fit in here very well.
"There were other teams as well, but it's not really of value how many other teams were in the mix. The part and the thing that's the most important is I found a home that seems to want me, and I wanted them."
After Smith’s contentious parting with the Panthers on Thursday after 13 NFL seasons, the Ravens pounced, agreeing to terms with him today to bolster their receiving corps. The Ravens closed the deal after welcoming Smith to the team facility, where he met with Newsome, Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and receivers coach Bobby Engram.
"We've added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens," Newsome said. "Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability and leadership to our team."
In 13 NFL seasons, Smith has caught 836 passes for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns. He will turn 35 in May and he’s coming off a season in which his catch total (64), yardage (745) and yards per catch (11.6) numbers sagged. But the Ravens, looking for a receiver who can make tough catches, work out of the slot and be a threat on third down, felt that the long-time Panther was the best option on the free agent market.
Smith said he doesn't arrive with the feeling he has anything to prove.
"No, I'm not coming to Baltimore with a chip on my shoulder," Smith said. "I'm coming to Baltimore as Steve Smith."
The addition of Smith provides another accomplished target for quarterback Joe Flacco, and injects toughness and attitude into an offense needing both.
They had interest in a couple of other receivers, including Patriots’ free agent Julian Edelman, but they honed in on Smith after his release Thursday afternoon. Smith had a number of suitors, but he gave the Ravens the first visit. The Ravens had several elements in their favor, including a tradition of winning and Baltimore’s relatively close proximity to Smith’s Charlotte home. His wife is pregnant with the couple’s fourth child and Smith preferred remaining within a short flight of his home.
Sources say the Ravens won't pursue Edelman now that they've already added Smith.
It also didn’t hurt that the Ravens have the Panthers on their regular-season schedule for 2014, giving the emotional and fiery receiver an opportunity to enact some payback on his former team and its general manager Dave Gettleman whose relationship with Smith soured before the player’s release.
"To be honest, I wasn't frustrated," Smith said. "Things didn't work out. I don't harbor any bad feelings. I kind of used the blood and guts thing, that was more tongue in cheek. I wasn't literally saying that I don't like this organization anymore. I love the organization. I love what they've done for me. I have no ill feelings or hold any grudges or am upset or any of that. People may think I'm just saying that to say it, but I can't be upset at an organization that gave me everything."
Smith follows in the footsteps of Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin as veteran wide receivers who were acquired by the Ravens to help provide leadership and toughness and take the passing game to another level.