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Former Ravens WR Steve Smith opens up about his ongoing mental health battles

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USA Today Sports

Former Ravens WR Steve Smith opens up about his ongoing mental health battles

In the United States, one of the most publicly respected – and publicly criticized – jobs you can have is that of a professional athlete. 

Steve Smith Sr., former Pro-Bowl wide receiver for the Ravens and Panthers, who retired in 2017 after playing 16 seasons, knows the pressure all too well.

“Too often taboo, depression is shut behind closed doors -- especially in a tough-guy sport like football, with a social media environment that glorifies successes and status,” Smith wrote in a first-person piece for NFL.com on Tuesday.

Though he primarily played with the Carolina Panthers, Smith finished his career in Baltimore as wide receiver for the Ravens from 2014 to 2016. Throughout his 16 years on the field, Smith totaled just under 15,000 yards and an impressive 1,031 receptions. 

But, as he elucidates throughout the piece, Smith had trouble feeling “genuine delight” or pure joy despite finding success on the field and with his teammates.

“Despite all of my achievements, I routinely felt trapped, inferior and alone. This overwhelmed me internally and often left me mentally, physically and emotionally broken,” Smith explains. The stories of constant self-doubt and depreciation seem familiar to anyone with a history of or connection to someone with a mental illness.

An anecdote from after Smith injured his Achilles tendon stands out in particular: 

I continued counseling sessions when I got to Baltimore the following year. I saw small changes in myself, but even more, I started seeing all my flaws. That's a hard thing to accept for anyone. After tearing my Achilles midway through what was to be my final season, I remember sitting in the hospital bed recalling dropped passes from 10 years prior.

In talking about his experience with counseling, Smith underscores the importance of patience, self-compassion, and recognizing that change and recovery is a lifelong process with no set end date. 

However, looking back, Smith says he still wishes he had been more open, and sought help sooner. Ultimately, it’s better to reach out late than not at all. 
“The best thing I ever did for my well-being was to seek help,” Smith reiterates throughout his writing.

It’s hard to open up to the world about something so stigmatized in a sport that asks you to sacrifice your body and mind. Football often labels any type of vulnerability as a weakness or an offense. But Smith’s courage and articulate response continues the conversation about how pro sports can make their players’ mental health just as much of a priority as their physical health.

After the losses of cultural figures Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, Smith hopes that we can open a dialogue on mental health without any drastic prompting events. 
“All human beings have strengths and weaknesses, physical and mental,” Smith concludes. “You're not alone. Believe me.”

You can read Steve Smith Sr.’s entire personal essay here.

If you or someone close to you is struggling with depression or other mental illnesses, it is never too late to reach out. Resources like www.mentalhealth.gov, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) or the Crisis Text line (HOME to 741741) can put you in touch with certified counselors or information on what to do next.

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Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco passes physical, is set to become Broncos' latest addition to QB carousel

Joe Flacco's journey out West is making progress.

The 34-year-old was in Denver last week and passed his physical with the Broncos, according to sources of Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, clearing a path for their trade with the Ravens to become official when the new league year begins March 13.

In a move that was expected as the team made it clear 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson is its future, the Ravens are reportedly sending Flacco to the Broncos for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Based off of one observant flyer at Denver International Airport, the former Super Bowl MVP flew commercial out of Denver in a very Flacco-like move.

'Joe Cool' will presumably be the Broncos' fourth starting quarterback in three seasons and the latest addition to their quarterback carousel.

The Broncos drafted Brock Osweiler 57th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, starting just seven games over four seasons and was eventually re-signed in 2017 where he only started four games. Then they drafted Trevor Siemian in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft, starting 24 games during the 2016-17 season, before trading up in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft for Paxton Lynch, who earned four starts in two seasons. They traded for Mark Sanchez in 2016, but he never made it to the regular season.

And finally, the Broncos signed free agent Case Keenum in 2018 to a two-year, $36 million deal. Keenum started all 16 games this season, going 365-for-586 for 3,890 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. However, general manager John Elway is now making room for Flacco for at least the next year. 

Flacco, who the Ravens drafted with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has no guaranteed money left with the Ravens and is working on a one-year, $18.5 million deal with two-team option years following that. It's not a bad deal for a team that can't commit to a starting QB. 

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The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The timeline of Joe Flacco's 11 seasons with the Ravens

The Joe Flacco era in Baltimore is coming to an end.

After 11 seasons with the team, the Ravens are reportedly trading Flacco to the Denver Broncos for a fourth-round pick. 

While the move wasn't shocking, it's not often a quarterback keeps a residency with one organization for that amount of time.

Over those years, Flacco has experienced the highest of highs and a few major lows. Let's take a look back at his time with the Ravens.

April 26, 2008: The Ravens drafted Flacco with the No.18 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. A low-profile quarterback out of Delaware, the only other first-round quarterback in that draft was Boston College's Matt Ryan at No. 3 to the Atlanta Flacons.

September 7, 2008: Flacco's first-career game as the Ravens' QB. Completing 15-of-29 attempts for 129 yards, the rookie led his team to a 17-10 win over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. In the win, Flacco also recorded his first-career rushing touchdown on a career-long 38-yard run. It was also the longest rushing TD by a rookie quarterback in their debut. 

January 2009: After finishing the 2008 season 11-5 and second in the AFC North, Flacco led the Ravens past the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card Round and past the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14 in the AFC Championship Round. It was the first time since the 2000 season the Ravens advanced to the conference championship game. Flacco finished his rookie season with 2,791 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

2009 season: Flacco became the fourth starting QB since the 1970 merger to reach the playoffs in their first two seasons. Easily beating the Patriots on the road, 33-14, the Ravens lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Round, 20-3. 

2010 season: Flacco became the Ravens' all-time leader in every major passing category, throwing for 3,622 yards and 25 touchdowns with a career-high 93.6 QB rating. Finishing the season 12-4, the team lost in the AFC Divisional Round to the Steelers.

November 6, 2011: With 2:24 left in the fourth quarter and trailing 20-16, Flacco and the Ravens orchestrated a 92-yard drive to stun the Steelers at Heinz Field. Torrey Smith's 26-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to seal the deal will go down as one of the best drives in Flacco's history

2011 playoffs: Flacco became the first quarterback since the 1970 merger to start a playoff game in his first four seasons and win a game each of those years. Finishing the season 312-of-542 for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, the Ravens lost in the AFC Championship Round to the Patriots in heartbreaking fashion after kicker Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying field goal attempt. 

2012 season: En route to winning Super Bowl XLVII and Super Bowl MVP, Flacco was 317-of-531 for 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Mounting one of the most memorable playoff runs ever, the QB was 73-of-126 for 1,140 yards and a 117.2 QB rating, becoming the second QB in NFL postseason history to throw 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. In what will reportedly now be his new home, Flacco had one of the most memorable moments of his career in the 'Mile High Miracle.'

2013 season: In 16 games, Flacco set career-highs in attempts (614) and completions (362) and became the first player in franchise history to throw for 20,000 yards. 

2014 season: Flacco started all 16 games for the seventh-consecutive season and set career-highs in passing yards (3,986) and touchdown passes (27). He became the first QB in NFL history to reach the postseason in six of his first seven years, with the Ravens offense setting a franchise single-season record in yards and points-scored, ranking eighth in the league. 

2015 season: Throwing for 2,791 yards and 14 touchdowns in the first ten games, Flacco sustained a season-ending knee injury against the then St. Louis Rams. The injury brought an end to his 122-consecutive regular season start streak, the sixth longest in NFL history entering 2018.

2016 season: Flacco threw for a single-season franchise record 4,317 yards in 2016 and set career highs in attempts (672), completions (436) and completion percentage (64.9). He also posted four 300-yard passing games and 20 touchdowns, including a career-long 95-yarder to wide receiver Mike Wallace Week 9 against the Steelers.

2017 season: Flacco's 3,141 yards and 18 touchdowns helped the Ravens have the ninth ranked points per game offense (29.4). Their postseason hopes came to a dramatic end with seconds to spare Week 17 against the Bengals.

2018 season: Flacco was 232-of-379 for 2,465 yards and 12 touchdowns before injuring his hip Week 9 against the Steelers. The QB would go on to miss four games before losing the starting job to rookie Lamar Jackson. 

February 13, 2019: The Ravens reportedly agree to trade Flacco to the Broncos in exchange for a fourth-round pick. 

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