A couple years back in 2013, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison announced his retirement from the game at the age of 34. About a month or so later, he was re-signed in-season by the Steelers, and after that season, he signed a two-year contract that is carrying him into his age-37 season in 2016. He has not closed the book on returning in 2017.
In 2015, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith announced that he intended to retire after the season was over. After suffering an injury seven games into the season that landed him on injured reserve, however, he did some contemplating and elected not to retire, but rather to continue his contract that he had signed.
He spoke about his offseason recently to Judy Battista writing for NFL.com, and he, too, at the end of the article, couldn’t help but recall, “last time I made an announcement, I blew out my Achilles”, noting that there would be “no more announcements” about pending retirements, possibly leaving open the window that he might return beyond the 2016 season, during which he, too, will be 37.
He also somewhat admitted to Battista, though, that one of the compelling reasons that resulted in him deciding not to retire was due to his desire to reach a certain milestone, a plateau that wide receivers shoot for that put them in an elite group.
Battista notes that Smith was injured in the process of recording the 961st reception of his career, leaving him just 39 receptions shy of reaching 1000. Steelers great Hines Ward somewhat limped his way to the 1000-yard mark at the end of his final season, with the offense feeding him the ball.
Smith is also just 68 yards shy of reaching 14,000 receiving yards. Only 10 other players have ever reached that level, and Smith is currently 11th on the all-time list. He could realistically pass Marvin Harrison this season with 14,580 yards by the end of this season for the seventh-most receiving yards in NFL history.
Those are some lofty figures that would no doubt look quite compelling on a Hall of Fame resume. Only 13 players have ever caught 1000 passes as well, by the way. Smith is currently ranked 15th in career receptions, and yet is only fifth, still, among active players, most of whom, if not all, may be future Hall of Famers in their own rights.
I find it somewhat interesting to see a player acknowledge that certain personal individual achievements had been a prime motivator in their decision to continue to play—though I’m not suggesting that was Smith’s sole motivation in choosing to return.
He did say, however, that “there are some things I want to accomplish. I never thought I would be able to get to 1000 receptions, 14,000 yards. Some of those things are very close that I would like to achieve”.
To be sure, both milestones are very much within reach. In seven games last year, Smith recorded 46 receptions for 670 yards. He has still continued to be an effective contributor as he enters his late 30s. And the Ravens, frankly, still need him, it seems.