Baltimore Ravens: What if Steve Smith Stayed with the Carolina Panthers?

Sep 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) shakes hands with Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. (89) after their game at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) shakes hands with Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. (89) after their game at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens won 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports /

The Baltimore Ravens have loved Steve Smith being in Baltimore, but how would things have been if he was still with the Carolina Panthers?

The Carolina Panthers are set to play the Denver Broncos this Sunday in Super Bowl 50. Just one person will be missing from the game: the best offensive player in Panthers franchise history.

It was over two years ago that the Panthers decided to cut ties with their top playmaker in the franchise’s short history. Steve Smith joined the Ravens that offseason and all three parties, the Panthers, Ravens and Smith, have all gone on very different paths.

Smith has Panthers franchise records for receptions (836), yards (12,197), receiving touchdowns (67), punts returned for a touchdown (4) and total touchdowns (75). Those are certainly Hall of Fame caliber numbers.

The production has not stopped there as Smith has continued to be effective since joining the Ravens. He’s accumulated 125 receptions for 1,735 yards and nine touchdowns since donning the purple and black. The Panthers found out first hand that he still has plenty left in the tank in Week 4 of last season. Smith torched his former team for 139 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions. The Ravens want to thank Carolina for keeping that chip on his shoulder.

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It seems like the current scenario for all parties involved is ideal. The Ravens have a playmaker at wide receiver that they need. Smith has found a a team that suits his style of play perfectly. The Panthers have gone on to enjoy success without Smith. It’s a win for everyone.

It is always fun to play the what if game. So what if Smith never left the Panthers?

The Ravens would likely have a completely different look on offense. Torrey Smith would likely still be in Baltimore as the only veteran receiver. Ozzie Newsome would have been forced to pay Torrey whatever it took to keep him around with no other proven receiver on the roster. If the Ravens offered the exact same contract that the 49ers gave Torrey, he would be making nearly $8 million a year, with $22 million guaranteed. He had 33 receptions for 663 and four touchdowns this season. Not exactly numbers that are worthy of $8 million a year.

The Ravens also would not have selected Breshad Perriman in the first round of last year’s draft. Perriman and Torrey are the same player so there would have been no need to bring in Perriman. They likely would have gone with the bigger receiver and not Perriman. Maybe a bigger receiver like the guy the Panthers took in the second round of the same draft.

The Panthers have advanced to the Super Bowl in large part because of the terrific play of Cam Newton. We are only a day away from him being named the NFL MVP and it is an honor well-deserved. He has completely turned the franchise around in the past two seasons and has them on the brink of their first Super Bowl victory.

That’s not to say that Newton could not use someone with Smith’s ability on the outside. In their final season together, Smith accounted for 64 receptions for 745 yards and four touchdowns. The reception and yardage totals would have bested every receiver on the Panthers roster this season. Carolina is also still searching for their top new target as they have been forced to select two receivers in the past two drafts in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.

Benjamin was terrific in his first season, but missed the entire 2015 campaign because of a knee injury. Carolina was really counting on his second season to be another positive step, but they were forced to turn to a rookie once again in Funchess. Funchess is a matchup nightmare in the end zone because of his massive frame at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but still has not put it all together yet.

Remember that receiver that I said could have worn a Ravens uniform? It’s possible that Funchess was the guy to land in Baltimore if things went differently.

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Smith is the one that has to be hurting the most. He spent 13 seasons with the Panthers and made the playoffs four times in his career. Carolina advanced to the Super Bowl in his third NFL season, losing to the New England Patriots. It’s now possible that his last playoff game will come against the Patriots as a member of the Ravens. It also must be a kick in a gut that the Panthers are ascending at a time that the Ravens seem to be in need to rebuild.

What if Smith was still with the Panthers? They could have still selected Benjamin and Funchess as the future at the position, while Smith continues to make plays when given the opportunity. The Panthers certainly could use someone with his skill set. Ted Ginn had 10 touchdowns during the regular season, but he’s a one trick pony. Smith does the dirty work in the middle of the field as well. Instead of the Broncos focus being solely on Newton, the Denver defense would need to be aware of where Smith is on the field as well.

It could have been a game with two legends playing in their final game. Peyton Manning and Steve Smith would have been optimistic to walk off into the sunset as Super Bowl winners like the legendary Ray Lewis did a few years ago (seems so long ago already). Two of the greatest at their respective positions hopeful to go out as champions.

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Steve Smith is rehabbing for his final NFL season after tearing his Achilles this season. Barring a miraculous turnaround, Smith will end his career with a Ravens team that is not good enough to win another championship. He will be watching the game this Sunday instead of playing with his former team. That’s a tough way to go out for a tough son of a gun.