2018 will be Jimmy Smith’s eighth in a Ravens uniform. During his first seven campaigns in purple and black he’s had perfect attendance just twice, the last time in 2015 when the Ravens finished (5-11), their worst season by far under John Harbaugh.
Over the course of his last four seasons he’s averaged 12 starts. Given his recent four-game suspension, if they’re lucky, the Ravens will get the same from their 2011 first-round pick.
One could argue that the Ravens are more equipped today to weather the storm of the Smith suspension than they’ve been since his arrival. Marlon Humphrey played well as a rookie and he has similar length to Smith. Tavon Young’s return to the field cannot be understated. He’s an excellent slot corner with terrific ball skills.
A look at the Ravens first four games shows an even split between home and away games. For the moment, the home games look like gimmes. The road games are against divisional rivals, the Bengals and Steelers. Taking one of those games will go a long way towards the Ravens’ AFC North title hopes. Losing both, not so much.
Without Smith, the challenges appear daunting.
The first of the two early divisional games on the schedule is Thursday, September 13 in Cincinnati. It’s never easy for the road team to win on Thursday night. Since 2006, road teams are 59-75 (.440) on Thursday Night Football. The Ravens are (1-2). Without Smith, most would conclude that it’s going to be difficult to control A.J. Green.
But a look at the 2017 finale against the Bengals, a game played without Smith, it might suggest otherwise. Marked frequently by Humphrey, Green posted 2 catches for 17 yards on 10 targets.
Now Pittsburgh, with Antonio Brown and the Ravens without Smith, that’s another story. Let’s just hope that the Ravens’ pass rush brings its A-game and the offense can put up 30+ points.
Smith will return to the field on October 7 in Cleveland and there’s no reason to think he won’t play well. The extended time off might actually benefit him and his recovering Achilles heel. Yet his actions on the field aren’t the issue these days. It’s what he’s done off the field that is.
“The NFL found evidence of threatening and emotionally abusive behaviors by Jimmy [Smith] toward his former girlfriend that showed a pattern of improper conduct. Our player’s behavior was inappropriate and wrong.”
The guess here is that Smith sent text messages and left inappropriate voice mails during his custody battle that could be construed as threatening and therefore abusive. Emotions can run high during such proceedings. Anyone who has been through it understands, perhaps even said things that they later regretted.
And let’s be honest, it’s not beneath an attorney to suggest to a client that he or she “bait” their adversary into behaviors that can provide advantageous leverage in the courtroom. So that’s a possibility, but certainly not an excuse for behavior that Smith has publicly stated, was inappropriate.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to my former girlfriend, the NFL, the Ravens organization, my coaches, my teammates, my fiancée and all our fans. I’m very disappointed that my past actions have led to this suspension. I promise that I have already learned much and will continue to learn more from this experience. I believe I am, and will continue to try to be, a better person and a better father because of this. I am committed to being the best I can be, both on and off the field.
“I take full responsibility for my past conduct. Moving forward, I will work with the NFL and the Ravens to ensure that what happened in the past will never happen again. I will take all necessary steps to be a positive role model for both my sons, for the NFL and for the entire Ravens community.”
Consequently, the penalty has been handed down by the league and word is that a custody settlement with its corresponding financial responsibilities has also been agreed upon. So now, for Smith, it’s time to do the time.
Yet many Ravens fans are wondering why the team has opted to keep the cornerback at all. It wasn’t that long ago, April of 2015 to be exact, that Steve Bisciotti publicly distanced himself and his team from domestic violence.
“I’m happy with that we’ve found ourselves comfortable taking [domestic violence] categorically and putting that to the top of the list as something that’s just unacceptable.
“I think it’s changing our draft board. It’s certainly going to change the free agents that we’re looking at.”
Why then, does Smith get a hall pass?
Is the organization now wavering on what was believed to be a firm stance on domestic violence? Based upon their recent press release, it’s easy to reach that conclusion.
“We consulted with relationship and domestic violence experts for their perspectives. We convened a group of Ravens women and men executives, not directly involved with our football operations, to review the matter. We also engaged in conversations with Jimmy about his past behavior and his intention to change.
“Additionally, it is our understanding that following a long-running and difficult custody dispute with his former girlfriend and mother of his son, Jimmy has resolved his custody and support issues.
“As a result of this entire process, we will allow Jimmy to return to our team after his suspension. Jimmy has acknowledged his behaviors were wrong and accepts full responsibility for them. He has completed a clinical evaluation and has agreed to undertake any follow-up care or treatment that may be recommended. Through our conversations with Jimmy, we believe he is taking the proper steps to improve and that he can change. Jimmy has assured us that he is fully dedicated to making this change. He also understands the consequences if he does not.”
Of course, he understands. Smith has over 16 million reasons to understand over the course of the next two seasons despite getting docked for the first four games in 2018.
Yes, Smith loses 4 weekly checks ($9M base salary divided by 17 weeks – players get paid on the Bye week), so that’s 4 checks of $529,412, equaling $2,117,648. The Ravens will get that amount rebated against the Cap (increasing their Cap space) when the suspension begins in Sept. https://t.co/nb66uUTBKu
— Brian McFarland (@RavensSalaryCap) August 22, 2018
Back in July the Ravens were reportedly interested in former Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland. Some brushed such reports aside given that the Ravens seemingly had ample talent at the position coupled with the challenging affordability of the promising Breeland. In hindsight, it appears as if the Ravens knew that a Smith suspension was a possibility.
UPDATE: The Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, and New England Patriots are all keeping tabs on free-agent CB Bashaud Breeland, per Josina Anderson.
As of now, Breeland expects to have… https://t.co/ay4BWWePRW
— ProFootballChase (@FootballChase0) August 10, 2018
For some, the Ravens apparent willingness to forgive Smith despite the previous hard stance on domestic violence, will become yet another organizational black eye – a black eye that they really can’t afford. Remember all of those empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium during the win-and-you’re-in game against Cincinnati?
When I visit Ravens Nests and Ravens Roosts, the kneeling in London still stings for these patriotic fans who prioritize their families and communities. For many it will take more time. The wounds run deep and that’s why many have given up their PSL’s. It’s why the PSL market is so slanted towards the buyers. In part, it’s why Ravens Nest 1 has seen its membership slowly evaporate from 200 members to 83.
Winning helps. Winning may be the cure-all, and perhaps that’s why Jimmy Smith is still a Raven. Would the Ravens have responded the same way to the DV allegations if Patrick Onwuasor or Albert McClellan or another player further down the depth chart was the perp?
In the end, plain and simple, retaining Smith is a short-term business decision. Winning will put more fans in the stands; it will bring back the PSL market; it will improve concessions and apparel sales; and it probably will bring back the majority of those fans now residing in the land of fan discontent. And Smith can help the team check off all of the boxes above.
Admittedly, it’s not an easy choice for the organization. But if their choice backfires and the Ravens lose with Smith, the recovery will take even longer and it won’t take place on Harbaugh’s watch. He’ll be gone.
The allure of winning can sometimes make you do things you otherwise might not.
And from the looks of it, the Ravens are no exception.