Denver Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, the franchise leader in every major receiving category, will not return to the field in 2007, the team decided on Thursday, and his future in the game is now uncertain.
The team also lost first-round defensive end Jarvis Moss, the 17th player selected overall in this year's draft, to a season-ending leg injury sustained in practice. Moss broke his right fibula and suffered torn ligaments in his right ankle when his foot caught in the turf during a nine-on-seven drill.
The former University of Florida star will be placed on injured reserve.
Smith spent the first six weeks of the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but returned to practice on Oct. 24 for the first time since undergoing extensive hip surgery more than eight months ago. At times during his rehabilitation, the 13-year veteran publicly expressed some doubts about when, or even if, he would be able to come back and play at all in 2007.
By league rule, the Broncos had a three-week window in which to evaluate Smith's progress and conditioning. By the end of the three weeks, the team had to either move Smith to the active, 53-player roster or keep him on the PUP list for the rest of the season.
Smith was bothered by persistent soreness in the hip, however, and that prompted a recent visit to a specialist. Based on the specialist's findings, the Broncos and Smith decided that it was fruitless to continue the comeback attempt. It is not known if Smith, 37, will attempt to play in 2008.
"He's a warrior," coach Mike Shanahan said on Thursday afternoon. "If he can't get back, then something is seriously wrong."
A three-time Pro Bowl performer, Smith said he was hampered by the problems with his left hip during much of the 2006 season, his least productive year since 1996. Although he started all 16 games, Smith caught only 52 passes for 512 yards and three touchdowns, as Javon Walker eclipsed him as the Broncos' lead receiver.
In February, Smith decided to undergo what he felt would be arthroscopic surgery on his left hip. But orthopedists discovered far more damage and deterioration to the hip than initially anticipated, and the procedure became much more extensive as they repaired a torn labrum, frayed cartilage and also addressed bone spurs.
The veteran receiver was on crutches for nearly three months and his rehabilitation was a lengthy one, as he missed all of the offseason conditioning program. Even with his return to practice last week, it was still questionable how Smith would respond to the daily grind and how he would hold up to the workload.
Signed by the Broncos as an undrafted college free agent in 1995, Smith demonstrated great deep speed early in his career, and then developed into a superb technical receiver as well. His work ethic has always been lauded by the Denver coaches.
In 183 games, the former Missouri Southern State star has 849 receptions for 11,389 yards and 68 touchdowns. That represents the most catches, yards and touchdown receptions in NFL history by a wide receiver who entered the league as an undrafted free agent. Smith has eight seasons with 1,000-plus receiving yards.
Moss was chosen to help bolster the Denver pass rush and signed a five-year contract with a maximum value of $15 million and $8 million in guarantees. He appeared in six games, all as a backup, and registered 12 tackles and one sack.
Senior writer Len Pasquareilli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.