Panther fans knew this day was coming, just not this soon and certainly not like this.
Last week, Carolina parted ways with Steve Smith, the receiver that was the face of the franchise and for years put the team on the map. There was backlash from the fan base which is to be expected- someone as fiery and talented as Smith was worshiped by Panther fans. The decision to release Smith will be hotly debated for years to come and with good reason.
There’s no question that Smith isn’t on the level he once was, but it’s hard to argue that he still can’t make an impact. Steve isn’t considered to be a number one receiver in the league anymore, but he was without a doubt the Panthers’ top receiver. Smith always garnered the other team’s best defensive back and the most double teams defensively- sounds like a number one receiver to me.
The best compliment you can give Steve is that he wasn’t just a great receiver, but a receiver who made others around him better. Smith has always been known as a fiery personality. That personality sometimes got him in trouble with coaches and teammates, but Steve played every game like it was his last. Few people wanted to win more than Steve Smith.
I want to be clear. I don’t have an issue with the Panthers dropping Smith because he had been with the team for 13 years and wanted to retire a Panther. Dave Gettleman, the Panthers General Manager, knows the NFL is a business first, and you can’t let emotion get in the way of doing what’s best for the team. I respect him for that.
I do have a problem with the way Carolina has handled Smith’s departure. It was bad enough that Steve had to find out about the team possibly shopping him over social media instead of from Gettleman himself. To make matters worse, the team even removed his jersey from the team store while in the process of trying to trade him. When approached with this, the team tried to play it off and say it was just because Smith was in the process of changing his name to Steve Smith Sr. A fair response until Smith himself was asked about it by ESPN’s Josina Anderson saying “your guess is as good as mine” referring to the mysterious disappearance of his jersey.
At the end of the day, the Carolina Panthers made a decision about their future, one that doesn’t involve Steve Smith. The team was rumored to be worried about Smith taking too big of a vocal leadership role in the locker room and wanted to see Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly take over the team. Truth be told, Smith has earned his right to be vocal.
The 5-time Pro Bowler has stuck with the Panthers through thick and thin. Smith was there for the highs as he helped the team make its first Super Bowl appearance and two NFC Championship game appearances. But he’s also been there for the lows. The recent 2-14 season and having to contend with Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, and Brian St. Pierre at quarterback just to name a few.
Through all of this, Smith could have easily given up and demanded a trade like many players in the NFL do today. When Smith did speak up in the locker room, people listened. That terrified the Panthers front office. Despite all of the setbacks Steve experienced as a Panther he stuck it out with the team that took a chance on him back in 2001. Loyalty is a word you don’t hear much in the NFL but it definitely exists in Steve Smith’s vocabulary.
Steve Smith now moves on to the Baltimore Ravens, a team known for using veteran players effectively. The Ravens are slated to play the Panthers in Baltimore this upcoming season and if you don’t think Smith is counting down the days until he plays his old team, I have some beachfront property to sell you in Kansas.