Steve Smith’s future in the NFL is undecided, but Panthers coach Ron Rivera hopes one day the receiver will retire as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Smith, in his second season with the Baltimore Ravens after spending 13 with the Panthers, tore his Achilles tendon Sunday against San Diego and is done for the season.
He was on his retirement tour this year despite having one year left on his contract, and it’s unclear whether he will stick to his word and hang it up or give it another try next year.
“As a Panther? Eventually? Yeah, when he gets an opportunity,” Rivera said when asked if he wanted to see Smith retire as a Panther, despite Smith’s unceremonious departure from the team in 2014. “He deserves it. He’s earned that opportunity.”
Of course, Rivera meant Smith signing an honorary, one-day contract that so many beloved members of franchises sign once they decide they have had enough. The coach did not mean trading for Smith so that he suits up for the team in 2016.
Smith will have his surgery done this week by renowned orthopedist Robert Anderson. He’s getting it done quickly to speed up his road to recovery in case he wants to play next year.
Recovery times from this injury can vary. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs came back from a tear in five months and six days in 2012. Former Panthers linebacker Jon Beason wasn’t his normal self for more than a year after his injury in 2011.
But Smith has defied odds his entire career. Now it’s a matter of if he wants to come back and play.
Smith had already prepared himself and his family for this to be the last year. His oldest son, Peyton, is a senior in high school and recently verbally committed to play soccer at DePaul University. He and his wife, Angie, had Steve Smith Jr. a year and a half ago.
It’s not improbable to think Smith could stay in Charlotte after his surgery to be with his family and rehab at nearby facilities. If he spends that time at home around his family, maybe he decides he was right all along about retiring this year.
Or, he feels this isn’t the way things are supposed to end. A torn Achilles on a two-win Ravens team isn’t the way he wants to go out, and he comes back for the final year of his contract in Baltimore in 2016.
Whatever Smith chooses, Rivera thinks the receiver will eventually end up in Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the first players from this organization to be part of the Hall of Fame,” Rivera said. “I believe he’s 10th now in all-time yardage, and deservedly so because he’s had a tremendous career.
“I was very sad to hear that. I don’t know what he’s going to decide next year, but whatever it is, if he does come back he’ll be solid again.”