The #Panthers have released WR Steve Smith.— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 13, 2014
Bill Voth of the SportsXchange was the first to report the news Thursday.
Thursday night ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Smith planned on making a visit to the Ravens on Friday:
Here we go: Former Panthers WR Steve Smith is scheduled to fly tonight to Baltimore to spend Friday meeting with Ravens, per source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer added:
As reported elsewhere, Steve Smith in Baltimore tonight meeting with Ravens. Planning to take other visits next week, per league source.— Joe Person (@josephperson) March 14, 2014
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman released a statement on the decision on the team's official website:
When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way. To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it's the right one.
As I've stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers. Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.
Sometimes it may appear that short-term interests will suffer, and I can assure you we have no interest in taking a step back from our 2013 accomplishments. Nevertheless, like all NFL teams, we are in transition as we try to get into the best position going forward. When Mr. Richardson hired me I promised him that my goal would be to leave the Panthers in a better position than when I came. All my efforts are in that vein.
Over the next few months we will have the opportunities afforded by free agency and the college draft to improve our roster. We also have young players who will get an opportunity. I have great trust in our evaluation process.
Steve had a wonderful career with the Carolina Panthers. I truly wish him and his wife, Angie, all of God's blessings.
Smith himself talked about the decision, and the possibility of playing the Panthers this season, according to Voth:
Now on WFNZ, Steve Smith on possibly playing vs #Panthers: “Put your goggles on cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”— Bill Voth (@billvoth) March 13, 2014
Steve Smith came onto B/R radio and added more comments:
Joe Person of The Charlotte Observer was quick to confirm Voth's story and reports along with CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora who the Panthers would like to target to replace Smith:
I'm told Hakeem Nicks is the Panthers' top target to replace Steve Smith. Panthers hope to bring him in for a visit soon.— Joe Person (@josephperson) March 13, 2014
With Steve Smith on way out of CAR, Panthers still talking to Hakeem Nicks. Offering deal worth about $4.5M/season. Badly need WRs— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014
La Canfora adds that the Ravens are looking to finalize a meeting as well:
Ravens working to finalize a visit with WR Steve Smith. Anticipate that being finalized sooner rather than later— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 13, 2014
Person also shared his thoughts on Smith's expected suitors to obtain his services:
Potential landing spots for Steve Smith: Baltimore, San Diego, maybe Tampa Bay. And don't ever rule out the Patriots.— Joe Person (@josephperson) March 13, 2014
Person also mentioned that Smith had tried to facilitate a trade:
According to another source, Smith gave Gettleman five teams as potential trade partners: Dallas, New England, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and San Diego.
But Smith's $7 million cap hit this year -- combined with his declining production in 2013 -- made a trade prohibitive.
Smith's release hasn't gone over well with the fans, as shown by Sporting News:
Albert Breer of NFL.com later reported another potential destination for Smith:
The Ravens will be in pursuit of Steve Smith quickly when he's released by the Panthers. Deal could materialize fast.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2014
Breer and Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer reported the likelihood of Smith being out in Carolina Monday afternoon:
#Panthers WR Steve Smith played 13 seasons for one team. He has 836 catches for 12,197 yards with 67 TDs. Now, they are trying to trade him.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 10, 2014
.@RapSheet reporting the Panthers are trying to shop Steve Smith. If no takers he will likely be cut— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) March 10, 2014
As the rumors started swirling, Smith, 34, took it in stride. In vintage form, the wideout made light of the situation, per ESPN's Josina Anderson (via ESPN's David Newton):
It’s a business and I understand that, and ultimately decisions aren’t up to me. I’m a player. At the end of the day, if a team decides to move on, I have to either accept that or I go sit at home and cry about it. So we’ll see.
When Smith arrived in Carolina, the team had been to the playoffs just once back in 1996, when it lost in the NFC Championship Game. The first team he was a part of went 1-15 behind Chris Weinke to continue a streak of what would eventually be six straight seasons without a winning record.
The 5'9", 185-pound receiver then became a staple of the franchise. First he was exclusively a return man, but he transformed into one of the best receivers in the game en route to helping take the Panthers to four playoff appearances during his time in Charlotte.
That alone makes the release a strange one for Steve Reed of The Associated Press:
Personally, I'm really confused on the WR Steve Smith situation. In my opinion he's the one player Panthers can't afford to lose.— Steve Reed (@SteveReedAP) March 7, 2014
As for longtime Panthers writers like Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer, the move shows poor judgement by a team that was on track for greatness:
I’m not thrilled.
This is a foolish move by a franchise that appeared to stop making them.
General manager Dave Gettleman was golden last season, his first in the job. But he has mangled the Smith negotiations. If Gettleman wants him out, he should have told the receiver before he told the media.
ESPN's Adam Schefter chimed in with who is currently listed as the team's starting receivers once Smith is released:
If Carolina were to a play a game tonight - and fortunately it does not - its starting WRs would be Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014
The benefits for Carolina are clear. As a team looking to once again win the NFC South and possibly contend for a Super Bowl, the Panthers now have more cap space after shedding the $7 million cap hit that would have risen to $10 million in 2015 and $12 million in 2016, per Spotrac.com.
Sorensen also looked at the possibilities of where Smith could wind up and the likelihood of him even staying in the NFC South:
Imagine him in the slot with New England, catching passes from Tom Brady. Imagine Eric Decker leaving Denver for a big contract elsewhere and Smith sliding into his place, suddenly a fan of former coach John Fox.
Imagine Smith with Tampa Bay or Atlanta, and the Panthers having to contend with him twice a season. Imagine him with New Orleans and Drew Brees, unless you’d rather not.
Describe it however you want to: shocking, upsetting or even downright insane. Regardless of where Smith winds up, his services will be welcomed immediately, even if he's not lining up as the No. 1 receiver on each snap like he was with the Panthers.
Is releasing Smith the right move by the Panthers?
For now, Smith will have to hunt down teams interested in his services while competing with other free agents.
Carolina fans are surely mourning the loss of not only the most productive receiver in the franchise's history but also a fan favorite. Yet with room on the roster and money to spend, the Panthers now have a shot at going after a few more low-priced free agents to improve offensively in 2014.
With a young offense slowly being built around Cam Newton, it will be interesting to see if the Panthers made the right move, especially considering the team's wide receiver depth was already a concern. It's also unfortunate that everything went down in this way to end Smith's tenure in Carolina.
Smith will continue to be productive for another team in the future, but his time in Carolina is officially up. For now, he will have to do something he's never done before: Find a new team.
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