Steve Smith wasted little time during his first foray into free agency.
Despite interest from at least five teams in the 24 hours since his acrimonious divorce from the Carolina Panthers, the 34-year-old wide receiver signed a three-year contract to continue his career with the Baltimore Ravens.
"The one thing that they said that was consistent was, 'We want you to be yourself,' " Smith said on a conference call Friday evening. "That was good. That was very encouraging. I enjoyed that."
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His new deal is worth $11.5 million total with a $3.5 million signing bonus in 2014, a person with knowledge of the deal told USA TODAY Sports. That person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed financial numbers of the contract.
Smith is scheduled to receive his signing bonus plus a $1 million base salary in 2014 for a total of $4.5 million; he'll receive $3 million in 2015; and $3 million in 2016 plus a $1 million option bonus if he plays 60% of the snaps.
He will also collect $5 million this year from the Panthers in salary and deferred bonuses from the last contract he signed with Carolina in 2012. That pact had no offset language, meaning the Panthers must pay his guaranteed base salary of $3 million even after releasing him on Thursday. The $2 million deferred bonus is due April 1.
With Smith's arrival in Baltimore, the Ravens' home game against Carolina this season — exact date to be announced later this spring by the NFL — has just become must-see viewing. During a Charlotte radio interview after his release, Smith promised "blood and guts" in his first game against his former team.
He backed off that statement Friday, saying his comments were made "tongue in cheek" and that he doesn't "harbor any bad feelings" toward Carolina even after his relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman had clearly soured.
"I wasn't literally saying that I don't like a certain organization anymore. That's not the case. I love the organization. I love what they've done for me," Smith said. "I have no ill feeling or hold no grudges or upset or any of that.
"People might think I'm just saying that to say it. But I can't be upset at an organization that gave me a chance to be everything, and gave me the opportunity to display for future teams, and display for the Baltimore Ravens that I can still play."
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Smith spent 13 seasons with the Panthers and leaves as the franchise's career receiving leader. He had only 64 catches for 745 yards last season, among the worst numbers of his career when healthy. He caught four touchdowns, but only one in the final nine games.
Despite playing with a sprained knee, he did grab four balls for 74 yards and a score in January's playoff defeat to the San Francisco 49ers.
Despite his advancing age, Smith said that the New England Patriots, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers were among the teams expressing interest in him. He was scheduled to meet with the Patriots on Monday after speaking directly with coach Bill Belichick on the phone Friday morning as he prepared for his flight to Baltimore.
But the Ravens made sure he never made the flight to New England. Smith agreed to his new contract Friday afternoon and signed it by early evening.
"Steve is a Ravens-style football player. He always has been in our eyes except that he's been playing for another team. We've always respected and admired the way that he plays, and we've always been challenged playing against him," coach John Harbaugh said in a statement.
"I've known him since he came into the league, and we've always had a great relationship. The last two days however have given all of us at the Ravens an opportunity to get to know him on another level, and now we're even more impressed. We're looking forward to working together and competing together."
Even though Smith will turn 35 in May, the Ravens are counting on him to have at least a couple more strong seasons as he joins a receiving corps that already includes Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, who re-signed earlier this week. The team also locked tight end Dennis Pitta into a five-year contract before free agency began.
Smith said there were plenty of things that drew him to the Ravens, including Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who has brought the scheme he used while head coach of the Houston Texans.
Smith, who was quick to distance himself from comparisons to former Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, envisions himself as part of an offense that allows multiple receivers to shine and said he looked forward to both getting his own catches but helping Smith and others as well.
"They've got some guys that are already established, that takes some pressure of me," Smith said.