Steve Smith is parting ways with football after a storied career that sees him 14th overall in receiving yards all-time. The gritty wide receiver has played for only two teams in his professional career and left the Panthers on less than stellar terms. Yet the Panthers' loss was the Ravens' gain as they got a 35-year old receiver that put up 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2014.
However, when you look at Smith's contract, it becomes a bit more gray on what the Ravens would have done with him at the end of this season. Wide receivers typically hit a wall and hit it hard, where they lose their speed and can get bullied by younger and more physical corners for the ball, making them ultimately useless for teams. That wall is sudden and can be devastating for a team and player that expected good things. Smith doesn't appear to have hit that wall yet, still pulling in impressive catches during training camp so far, but it isn't too far off for a guy that is 36 years old at this time.
So what would happen if at the end of this season, Smith was starting to show signs of a career collapse? Well for one, he would be entering the final year of his contract in 2016, earning $4.166 million with a dead cap number of only $1.166 million, meaning that the Ravens would immediately get $3 million in cap savings by cutting the veteran. As we've seen with Ozzie Newsome before, $3 million can get in a lot of really great veteran players and depth at areas that could use it, so Smith would have no guarantees on wearing purple and black the following season.
On the other hand, if Smith is able to play lights out yet again this season and show no signs of slowing down, he could find that he still has another season under his belt. In that scenario, the Ravens would welcome back a wide receiver that could top 1,000 yards and has chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco for a relatively paltry sum. Smith has no plans to play until he's 40, but 37 isn't 40 either.
I really don’t have the family structure to chase 40, to be honest. I have a lot of things on my ‘to do’ list that don’t have to do anything with football. So, I’m going to take it day by day, but I will not be playing until I’m 40.
As we've seen with too many players that don't know when to call it quits, the end drags on and gets sad, tarnishing a legacy. For Smith, his legacy is built on proving people wrong and the fire that he gets doing so, but not being able to find a team or be a starter in the league would be how most would see him at the end and that type of finish to a career just isn't fair to Smith and what he has done for the teams he has been a part of. By coming out now, he gets it out of the way and can either commit to it at the end of the season or come back to spill the "blood and guts" once more.