Updates from Thursday, Mar. 6
When asked by ESPN at Clemson's Pro Day about the likelihood of returning to the Panthers in 2014 for his 14th season, Smith said he is still a member of the Carolina Panthers but didn’t say much more.
“Here’s all I have to say about it,” Smith said. “I am working out and doing all the things as I am a Carolina Panther. That’s where I am. And I’ll continue to move forward until I am told otherwise.”
Smith, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, reiterated his surprise when he heard he was “part of the evaluation process.”Gettleman said those words at the NFL scouting combine, and Tuesday was the first time Smith had spoken with Gettleman since his exit interview following the playoff loss to San Francisco.
“Like every offseason they are making moves and making decisions that are going to be, moving forward, for the betterment of the team,” Smith told ESPN. “Those decisions and those conversations I don’t know all of them. I’m not in the meeting rooms. But we talked about some things. And what we talked about it is what we talked about.”
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith's future with the team is in question, and that fact isn't sitting well with the five-time Pro Bowler.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman took plenty of observers by surprise when he was less than assertive about the 13-year veteran's status with the team in 2014. According to Will Brinson of CBSSports.com, Gettleman said that he would "evaluate" the situation:
We're going through the whole process. Steve's had a great career. He really has. None of us are here forever. But that's not to say—he's part of the evaluation process. That's just the way it is.
Nobody was more surprised by the comments than Smith, who responded during a radio interview with Keith Larson of WBT-AM in Charlotte.
Per the interview (h/t Pro Football Talk's Darin Gantt), Smith was particularly upset that he wasn't consulted prior to the comments being made:
To be honest, I'm not really sure what to make of it. That's the first time I heard that being said. I wish I would have been afforded an opportunity to be given a heads up from our GM ... The unfortunate part is, I had to hear it second hand. No one spoke to me face to face. It’s a little discouraging. I guess as they say it's part of the business.
What should the Panthers do with Steve Smith this offseason?
At 34 years of age, it is only natural that Smith is starting to decline. His 64 catches for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 were well below his career averages and represented his worst production since 2010.
Smith has broken 1,000 receiving yards in a season on seven occasions, and he is still very much the Panthers' No. 1 receiver in name, especially with Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. hitting free agency.
Quarterback Cam Newton needs weapons in the passing game to continue his development, and Smith is undoubtedly his most experienced and trusted target.
Head coach Ron Rivera seems interested in keeping Smith in the fold as he referenced him being part of the team's future, according to the Panthers' official Twitter account:
Ron Rivera: "We're going through our process and Steve Smith is a part of what we're doing going forward." http://t.co/uSF9OA3CQ8— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) February 23, 2014
The NFL is obviously a business, but emotions are bound to get involved. Even if Smith isn't the same player he once was, he has given the Panthers plenty of strong years, and he deserves to be treated with respect.
ESPN's Anthony Becht issued a word of warning to Gettleman as he may be on the verge of playing a very dangerous game with Smith:
The Panthers made considerable progress this past season by going 12-4 to win the NFC South and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. Getting rid of Smith wouldn't help Carolina improve by any stretch of the imagination.
Gettleman has to know that alienating one of the best players in franchise history is a foolish move, so the best thing that he can do is sit down with Smith and explain the situation. Smith needs to be put at ease, and Gettleman must ensure that everyone is on the same page moving forward.
The Panthers are going to win games with defense and a ball-control offense, but Smith is a true threat in the passing game, and that dimension is necessary for Carolina to take the next step.
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