After a successful first season with the Carolina Panthers, general manager Dave Gettleman is set to begin the next chapter of his tenure in Charlotte. Speaking to the media at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, Gettleman laid out the team's objectives when it came to the future of their free agent veterans and draft strategy. However, his comments regarding Steve Smith suggested the team may be parting ways with him.
Essentially, the all-time leading receiver in franchise history may have played his last down in a Panthers uniform.
Steve's had a great career. None of us are here forever. He's part of the evaluation.
This evaluation process pertains to the team's free agents and who is best suited to give Carolina the better chance to win in 2014 and beyond. Mentioning a player who still has three years left on his contract and has left an indelible mark on the organization and fan base as part of that same process tends to suggest the front office may be ready to part with the fiery receiver.
Perhaps, Smith's cap number ($7 million for 2014) is part of the puzzle. The Panthers would like to retain their own talent and dumping Smith's salary in an effort to re-sign Greg Hardy could be part of their strategy.
However, the move would raise a lot of questions about the offense's passing game. Smith is the only true proven receiver capable of making big plays and has thrived with Newton under center. Carolina would be taking a big risk in letting the 13-year veteran go and entrusting the receiving corps to an unproven group of receivers and probably a rookie.
For a team that is attempting to repeat as NFC South champions, this could be a recipe for disaster.
There is no doubt Smith wants to finish his career in Carolina. When it seemed like he wanted to be traded, the selection of Cam Newton in the 2011 NFL draft helped to keep him in town. Aside from last season, Smith has reached at least 1,100 receiving yards with Newton under center.
Surprising: Panthers GM Gettleman wouldn't commit to Steve Smith on the team when pressed.— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) February 20, 2014
The fact that Gettleman did not commit to the wide receiver's future is both telling and mysterious.
Smith is the best at his position in Carolina. He's also one of the oldest players on the team at 34. Gettleman has shown a willingness to build a competitive team through youth and for the most part, he has succeeded, especially on defense.
The mystery lies in the fact that Gettleman did not elaborate further on his comments regarding Smith and fans are left to wonder if something showed up on game film that has left the team exposed or if the master plan is to overhaul the entire receiving corps through free agency and the draft.
What are your thoughts about Steve Smith?
Of course, it would not make much sense to find a viable replacement for Smith in the draft as far as a veteran presence is concerned. The most commonly linked name to the team appears to be Hakeem Nicks, but his expectations would probably be more than the current cost of Smith.
Additionally, Smith's contributions to the team and his overall production should make him a dark horse Hall of Fame candidate. That being said, Gettleman is probably looking towards the future and will not allow feelings of sentiment get in the way of making difficult decisions.
Smith has had a good run in Carolina and while he did play in a Super Bowl, he deserved to play on some better teams. Despite it all, he has maintained a professional attitude and proven himself as a team leader. He has done all of this regardless of his past actions which put him in the midst of a lot of scrutiny and backlash.
It's too early to know what the future holds for Steve Smith and his future with the Panthers. If the unthinkable were to happen and he is released, it will be on Gettleman's shoulders to bring in the next franchise receiver.
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