The release of Steve Smith seems imminent

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
8:10
PM ET
Steve SmithChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter 13 seasons together, it appears the Carolina Panthers might cut Steve Smith.
Steve Smith's days with the Carolina Panthers appear numbered.

Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the Panthers have been shopping their all-time leading receiver without success because of his relatively large salary-cap number ($7 million).

Often when a player is shopped with no takers, the next step is to cut him.

None of this should come as a surprise. General manager Dave Gettleman said last month at the NFL combine that Smith was under review, which came as a surprise to Smith.

He also referred to Smith's career in the past tense, which Smith acknowledged on a recent radio show as a signal the team might be moving on without him.

Smith met with Gettleman on Wednesday but revealed little about his future other than saying it was "bright."

"Here's all I have to say about it," Smith told ESPN on Thursday while serving as a guest analyst at Clemson's pro day. "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."

That day could come soon after the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. To cut Smith before then would mean a bigger financial hit.

From those I've talked to, this isn't all about money, although Smith's contract is prohibitive if the Panthers plan to sign a veteran free agent such as Hakeem Nicks or Sidney Rice -- or even a lesser-known name.

It's more about the Panthers believing Smith won't be able to handle a lesser role or being referred to as the No. 2 receiver.

It's about wanting to build a stable of new weapons for quarterback Cam Newton with a veteran leader and, as coach Ron Rivera said at the combine, a dynamic young receiver.

There are those in the Carolina locker room who would question Smith's ability to lead.

Smith will be 35 in May, so regardless, he won't play more than another year or two.

That being said, as I've written several times, to cut Smith is a mistake. Maybe the Smith of five years ago wouldn't be able to handle a lesser role, but the Smith of today would.

He has asked several times over the past couple of years for the team to bring in another quality receiver to challenge him for catches. It hasn't happened.

It seems the better avenue would be to restructure Smith's contract to open up room to sign a veteran. Mix a veteran with Smith and a first- or second-round pick from this year's highly touted class of receivers, and you have a major upgrade from this past season.

Get some value out of Smith that you couldn't get in a trade for a draft pick.

If he's released, you can bet there's a contender that will jump on the opportunity to sign Smith for a bargain. At 35, he's still as good or better than many receivers 10 years younger.

The Panthers obviously don't seem convinced, otherwise they wouldn't be shopping Smith.

The next step appears to be to cut him.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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