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Losing one Smith to keep another Smith

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The 80/20 rule feasts on the very good players. Great players, however, have long been immune to its merciless gaze.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

"I can't just think about 2015, I have to think about 2016 and 2017, too." — GM Ozzie Newsome

The sting has worn off somewhat from Torrey's impending departure. This is the sort of thing we all knew could happen. Had Torrey Smith been a defender, we probably wouldn't be surprised.

Because Torrey represents easily the most successful receiver we've ever drafted (Brandon Stokley being the second, if you can believe that), and a Maryland kid, it never seemed real that he could leave.

Well, he GONE. So, how did this happen?

The answer lies about 12 months in the future, or sooner as the case may be. But first, a trip down memory lane.

Circa 2007

The Ravens produced their most dominant season in every statistical category in 2006. Adalius Thomas was the best player by Approximate Value (per Pro-Football-Reference.com). His 19 that year was the seventh best in Ravens history.  Ray Lewis holds 5 of the other top 6 spots.

Thomas' 2006 was a DPOY caliber season and perhaps should have been. Yet, when March rolled around, the Ravens had to let him walk to a conference rival.

Ozzie Newsome recalls feeling agonized by the decision as he had a particular closeness to Thomas and was especially proud of the selection. A humble 6th round pick in the 2000 draft, Thomas had been bred and raised for this fearsome defense.

Unfortunately it was because of what Newsome saw coming in 2008 that he had to let Thomas go in 2007. Terrell Suggs, the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft, was in his final year of his rookie contract.

Suggs had already turned in a DROY award and overall he had been a better player than Thomas aside from 2006. He was headed for a market-setting contract for pass rushers.

Perhaps more importantly, he was a full five years younger. Just 20 when he came out, Suggs was only 24 in 2007 while Thomas was 29. Simply put, he had the potential to be around for a decade unlike Thomas who likely had no more than 5 years left of late prime production.

Thomas signed a huge deal with the Patriots and helped them go 18-1 but Newsome's foresight was soon validated. Thomas burned up in the atmosphere, retiring in 2009. Suggs meanwhile is still playing at a high level, earning a DPOY of his own in 2011.

Unfortunately, this is where we were with Torrey Smith.

Good vs. Great

Torrey Smith is a very good player. If you read my deep dive, you hopefully earned a new appreciation for how valuable Torrey has been to us.

But in the Ravens organization, good players often find themselves on the wrong end of 80/20.

Jimmy Smith, however, is a GREAT player. He was maligned as a "bust" early in his career but that is very exaggerated. Smith proved very early on that he had the goods to be a #1 corner. Injuries derailed his rookie season but when he did play, he was effective.

His 2012 was relatively quiet. Mainly because Cary Williams was the most targeted CB in the NFL that year.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Don&#39;t have 2014 cleaned yet, but Cary Williams was the only CB in FO&#39;s charting with 90+ targets in each season from 2011-13.</p>&mdash; Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) <a href="https://twitter.com/FO_ScottKacsmar/status/575170995700506625">March 10, 2015</a></blockquote>

<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Not that anyone needs reminding, but Jimmy Smith saved our season in the Super Bowl. It is no coincidence that in the defining moment of the game, the Ravens coaches elected to leave Smith alone on an island with Michael Crabtree.

Smith was again quietly effective in 2013. Top corners often are, as teams elect to throw at someone else. Jimmy Smith was en route to his best season yet in 2014 before suffering a Lisfranc. Ozzie Newsome's assessment, not mine (per the State of the Ravens press conference).

Looking ahead to 2016

Smith is playing on his fifth year option in 2015 at a cool $7 million. Come 2016, he will be commanding double that without blinking an eye. He has the eye test, the production, and the #1 corner experience.

The current free agency market for corners says it all. Byron Maxwell, a career #2 CB with less than 16 starts on the best secondary in the league, just got $63 million over 6 years. Receivers, meanwhile, are being discarded left and right by regretful teams who bought high.

The market has spoken. In any case, this is no new phenomenon. Cornerbacks are one of the four premium positions (along with QB, Pass Rusher, and Left Tackle).

Letting Torrey Smith go hurts but if we're honest with ourselves, we understand that a player of Jimmy Smith's caliber is more difficult to find or replace. Tall, smart, dominant corners are simply among the league's rarest and most precious commodities.

To have any hope of retaining Jimmy Smith, this is perhaps just one of several departures we will have to endure. To which I say:

Follow me on Twitter @jerreegarcia where I may or may not be derisively criticizing many free agency deals.