Steve Smith had made up his mind. Last January, in the days following the Carolina Panthers' disappointing one-and-done playoff appearance against the San Francisco 49ers, Smith's heart and body started leading him in the direction of his own one-and-done experience. His decision was clear. He would play one more season with the Panthers, his 14th in Carolina, and then retire, heading home to his burgeoning family and whatever life after football held.
But plans can change rapidly in the NFL, and Smith is thankful they did. Days after his surprise release from the Panthers in mid-March, Carolina's all-time leading receiver signed a new lease on his football life, agreeing to a three-year, $11 million deal in Baltimore, with a Ravens organization that has a long and successful history of adding still-productive veterans to its winning mix. The unexpected jolt Smith, 35, received this offseason might have been exactly what he needed, and he's freshly motivated by the possibility of a career-capping three-year run in Baltimore.
"When I got released, and how it happened, it made me feel a certain way,'' Smith said, moments after finishing an impressive OTA workout at the Ravens' team complex. "It gave me a little bit maybe that I had been missing. My wife said, 'How do you feel about that?' And my response was to start working out again every day after that. I started jogging, my knee started feeling better, and the next thing you know, I got a three-year deal here.