Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith has been saying for weeks that he feels the team he's been with since 2001 is looking to move on without him. And according to one report, Smith might be right. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network said on Monday afternoon that the Panthers are indeed looking to trade Smith. If there are no takers, which there may not be given his age (34) and 2014 cap number ($7 million), the Panthers also have the option of releasing Smith.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman started the ball rolling at the scouting combine in late February when he declined comment specifically on Smith's future with the team, saying instead that " 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."
Head coach Ron Rivera's comments were equally nebulous.
"It's all about the evaluations," he said. "We have to look through everything. There's a lot of scenarios that we're putting together as a football team. But Steve's part of who we are, and we'll go from there ... We are in a process right now that we're getting ready to evaluate college football players. When we get back into town, we'll start talking about what has to happen as we get ready for free agency."
At outspoken as he generally is, Smith had a fairly predictable response.
"(I) would have wished that I would have been afforded the opportunity to be given a heads-up by our GM and also with coach Rivera," Smith told WBT-AM in Charlotte (via the NFL Network) on Feb. 26. "When I did my exit meeting, no one spoke to me about it in that manner, so the unfortunate part of it is I had to hear secondhand.
"We have to read into things and we try not to, but when we speak of an individual's career in the past tense, I think ultimately it would suggest that a team is moving on, and that's all I can do. No one has still reached out to me and told me anything."
While the NFL is a business above all else, this does seem a rather cavalier way to treat a player who's probably done more for a franchise that's been around since the mid-1990s than anybody else. He has 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns in his Carolina career, and he's been the main man at receiver most of that time, with a series of questionable quarterbacks for the most part until recently, when Cam Newton developed his game.
Yes, he's getting older, but he's missed just four games in the last five years. And yes, his stats have declined a bit (64 catches on 109 targets for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 2013), but it isn't as if anyone else on the team is racking up huge receiving numbers. Tight end Greg Olson led the Panthers with 73 catches for 816 yards and six touchdowns, and no other Panthers receiver brought in more than 49 balls... because Carolina ranked 30th in the league with just 473 passing attempts -- 23 more passes than Peyton Manning completed last season. "I'm just taking it one day at time. I don't really know what's going on, to be honest," Smith concluded in late February. " Until a couple days ago, I didn't know my football career was in jeopardy, so it's a lot that I have to process."