Steve Smith was not unemployed for long.
A day after being released by Carolina, the Panthers’ all-time receiving leader signed a three-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Friday on the first free-agent visit of his career.
Assuming he’s healthy, Smith will get a chance to face his former team when the Panthers play at Baltimore next season.
The NFL schedule will be announced in April. Based on what Smith said Thursday on his way out of town, it should be must-watch TV.
“I want to make sure that whatever team I go to, they’re going to get the best, in-shape 35-year-old they could possibly get,” Smith told WFNZ-AM. “And if that happens to run through Bank of America Stadium, put your goggles on because there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”
The game will be at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, but you get the idea.
Smith’s deal with the Ravens is worth $11 million, with a $3.5 million signing bonus, according to a league source.
Because there was no offset language in his Panthers contract, Smith also can collect the full $5 million Carolina owes him.
When Smith asked Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to be traded a few years ago, Baltimore was one of the cities Smith mentioned as a landing spot.
Smith listed the Ravens again last week when the Panthers asked him to give desirable trade partners, before ultimately releasing him.
During a conference call with reporters Friday, Smith said he canceled a scheduled trip to New England on Monday. Smith said he also had an offer from San Diego, and received calls from Seattle and Washington, as well.
But Smith said he likes the Ravens’ tradition of using veteran players, and was impressed when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh told the mercurial player he wanted him to be himself.
Smith said the short flight from Charlotte to Baltimore also was important. His wife, Angie, is due in March with their fourth child.
Smith didn’t take any shots at the Panthers or general manager Dave Gettleman, whose decision to cut one of the team’s most popular players angered much of the fan base.
“I have no ill feelings, or hold any grudges or upset. People may think I’m just saying that to say it,” Smith said. “I can’t be upset at an organization that gave me everything, that gave me the opportunity to display for future teams and for the Baltimore Ravens that I can still play.”
Smith ranks 25th in league history with 836 catches and 19th all-time with 12,197 receiving yards. He holds more than 30 Panthers records, including all of their major receiving marks.
But Smith’s production slipped last season when he caught 64 catches for 745 receiving yards and four touchdowns, prompting questions about whether he was still a No. 1 receiver.
He won’t have to be in Baltimore. Smith joins a receiving corps featuring Torrey Smith, who had 65 catches for 1,128 yards in 2013, and Jacoby Jones, a deep threat who re-signed with the Ravens this week.
“They’ve got some guys that are already established and it takes some pressure off me,” Smith said.
Harbaugh said he’s long admired the way Smith plays.
“I’ve known him ever since he came into the league, and we’ve always had a great relationship,” Harbaugh said in a release. “The last two days, however, have given all of us with the Ravens an opportunity to get to know him on another level, and now we’re even more impressed.”
General manager Ozzie Newsome said Baltimore added one of the top competitors in the NFL in Smith.
The Ravens have been looking for a tough, proven receiver since Anquan Boldin signed with San Francisco following Baltimore’s Super Bowl season in 2012. Smith said he respects Boldin, but will not try to replace anybody.
“I’m not coming to Baltimore with any chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m coming to Baltimore as Steve Smith.”
He might be in a familiar jersey. No. 89 is available, so it’s likely he ends up with it.
He’s hoping he ends up in another Super Bowl, too, although he’s not making that his sole focus.
“We’re going to swing for the fence. There’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But chasing a ring and making it about all those other things, you can’t do that.”
The conference call with Smith ended strangely when Baltimore radio station WBAL failed to mute its phone, drowning out Smith with its drive-time newscast.
By the time things got straightened out, Smith was gone.
Just like that.
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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