Is a divorce between the Panthers and WR Steve Smith close?

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has been the greatest receiver in team history, but it might be time for him to take a knee.

JEFF SINER — jsiner@charlotteobserver.com Buy Photo

The Carolina Panthers were serious when they said the status quo wasn’t good enough.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman appears to be on the verge of cutting Steve Smith, the leading receiver in franchise history and one of the team’s most popular players.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Panthers are attempting to trade Smith – a move often made by teams trying to get something for a player they intend to let go.

A Panthers spokesman would not confirm the report Monday, saying there was “nothing new” to Smith’s situation.

With Smith’s $7 million salary cap figure and his declining numbers in 2013, the Panthers could have trouble obtaining anything of value for Smith, 34.

Any team interested in trading for Smith likely would want him to restructure his contract. But with Smith guaranteed $3 million if he’s released by the Panthers, there’s no incentive for him to do so.

Gettleman first cast doubt on Smith’s future last month at the NFL Scouting Combine with a noncommittal response to a question about a player whose name has been synonymous with the Panthers for the past decade.

Gettleman and Smith met last week, although no details have emerged about what was discussed.

If the Panthers release Smith and designate him as a June 1 cut – which is beneficial from a salary cap standpoint – he has to be on the roster when the league year begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, which is also the start of free agency.

Smith told the Observer recently he intends to play in 2014.

Because there is no offset language in Smith’s contract, he could collect the $3 million from the Panthers if he’s released, in addition to whatever money another team is willing to pay.

Smith, who will turn 35 in May, caught 64 passes for 745 yards and an 11.6 yards-per-catch average – all of which ranked among the worst in Smith’s 13-year career.

With longtime left tackle Jordan Gross retiring last month, Gettleman appears ready to turn the locker room over to a young core of players led by quarterback Cam Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Smith’s fiery personality has made him a hit among Panthers’ fans over the years, although it has not always been as well received in the locker room and front office.

Smith, a third-round draft pick from Utah in 2001, has played in 182 games with the Panthers, second only to former kicker John Kasay (221). His 161 career starts are second in team history to Gross’ 167.

Gettleman’s comments at the combine were the first public sign Smith’s tenure with Carolina could be coming to a close.

“Steve’s had a great career. He really has,” Gettleman said in Indianapolis. “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.”

During an interview with ESPN last week at Clemson’s pro day, Smith said his future with the Panthers was out of his hands.

“It’s a business and I understand that, and ultimately decisions aren’t up to me,” Smith told ESPN. “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.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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