Last season during the dawn of free agency the idea of the Baltimore Ravens signing outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil was a non-existent one. The former Bronco wasn’t even supposed to hit the open market, yet the Ravens got a helping hand from Lady Luck in the form of a fax machine glitch.
The Ravens swooped in and seized the opportunity by signing Dumervil to a five-year deal.
This year, the Ravens may be the beneficiaries of an unexpected free agency twist yet again.
A few weeks ago, the idea of Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith becoming a free agent wasn’t even thought of. Yet here we are with the once unfathomable idea of Smith free to sign with a team of his choice a reality.
Could the Ravens be that team?
For Baltimore’s sake, the organization is off to a solid start in its pursuit to land the veteran.
Ravens working to finalize a visit with WR Steve Smith. Anticipate that being finalized sooner rather than later
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014
Even with the signing of Jacoby Jones to a four-year deal on Wednesday, adding a player of Smith’s caliber has become more than a priority.
This is still a roster with a dearth of talent at the wide receiver position, and while a current three-deep group of Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown isn’t a poor situation to have, it also isn’t a desirable one.
Ideally, the Ravens need to add a starting-caliber veteran, as well as a rookie who has starter upside, if not starter capability in his rookie season.
Last year’s pass offense was excruciating to watch at times, but perhaps Smith can be one of the missing pieces to the mini rebuilding process the pass attack must undergo this offseason.
When studying Smith, outside of the obvious gifts he possesses as a receiver, his grit, physicality and intimidation that he imposes upon opponents just jumps off the screen.
This isn’t necessarily a tangible trait, or one that can improve a pass offense, but for a Ravens offense that lacked an edge, persona or identity in 2013, having this around would help inspire a team that play uninspired more than once last season:
As a receiver, Smith may be a soon-to-be 35-year old, but he still has a few more years of quality football in him.
For a Ravens offense that will have two speed-based receivers in Torrey Smith and Jones back in 2014, adding a reliable, physical underneath target has become a priority.
That’s what signing Steve Smith would provide.
When discussing the receiving corps talk centers all too often upon, “How can the Ravens replace Anquan Boldin?”
But what about finding a receiver similar to Derrick Mason?
The noticeable affection Joe Flacco had for Boldin is well-documented, and it wasn’t a secret that Boldin was his go-to guy.
Before Boldin, though, Flacco’s first go-to receiver was Mason.
During Baltimore’s postseason runs from 2008-2010, if it weren’t for Mason, who knows how far the Ravens would have gone?
Flacco turned to Mason time and time again in crucial short-yardage situations, and there was a noticeable rapport between the two.
Smith can be Flacco’s Mason 2.0.
Last season may have provided Smith’s lowest catch total (64) since 2010 and his lowest yards per catch (11.6) since 2007, but that shouldn’t shield the fact he is still a capable starting receiver. Once an imposing deep threat with top-tier speed after the catch, Smith has been forced to re-work his game with age, adopting a more intermediate, underneath playing style.
He handled the role perfectly in 2013.
Even when he was covered, Smith was still Quarterback Cam Newton’s go-to target.
In Carolina’s playoff game, Newton opted to get the ball out quickly before a collapsing pocket ensued.
Smith ran a quick slant against tight press coverage, and when Newton keyed in and began his throwing motion, Smith was just getting out of his break with the cornerback still on him.
With no time to gain separation, as well as inside linebacker Navarro Bowman coming from his left, Smith had to body up the cornerback and embrace for contact.
He still managed to hold onto the ball for a short gain despite this post-catch impact.
How often (if ever) did a Ravens receiver make a play like this last season?
Outside of Smith’s physicality, his premier route running still makes him a viable threat in the short passing game.
Much like Mason, Smith can thrive on the comeback route, which appears to be Flacco’s most compatible route for the 5-10 yard passing plays.
Smith may be past his prime, but when he creates this much space between himself and the defender on a simple comeback, age doesn’t matter.
Comebacks with this much separation would be easy pickings for Flacco and Smith.
Other than his desirable pass-catching traits, Smith’s mean streak also results in an enforcing run blocker, which always helps.
Having a Gary Kubiak-led offense that promises to have more play action next season should open up the deep passing game more, which would allow Smith to thrive in the underneath role he proved himself in last year.
Wherever Smith plays next season, he’ll likely be relegated to a more confined role than in his prime, when he could run any route with elite speed and gain separation.
Much like Mason in his final years with Baltimore, the comeback, curl and slant will be Smith’s home, which is just what the Ravens need.
But make no mistake about it; Smith can still get downfield quick on occasion, as seen in last season’s playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Let’s not make the assumption that Smith would be the missing piece in Baltimore’s pass offense.
But we can assume he would be one damn good addition!