Carolina Panthers: Jeff Byers

Steve Smith spent the early part of what many thought might be his last day as a member of the Carolina Panthers having fun in a Twitter exchange with Brian Blackmore, a fan who made up a "Save Steve Smith" T-shirt.

Blackmore, 31, then shared that he once was released from his job, adding, "I'm pulling for you."

Responded Smith: "I love the shirt but it just made me laugh and smile. Everything that is going on I'm just humbled by the support."

Maybe the T-shirt worked.

At least for the first day of the NFL's new year, Smith is safe.

That doesn't mean the Panthers won't release him on Wednesday or the next day or the next. They've almost backed themselves into a corner since it was reported on Monday they were trying to trade their all-time leading receiver.

And maybe they still are. Since Smith is under contract, the Panthers didn't have to release him at 4 p.m. ET as most teams looking to dump a player did. They can talk trade for another couple of months in hopes of convincing a team to take on Smith's $7 million cap figure.

It's doubtful that will happen. Teams aren't likely to gamble that kind of money on a soon-to-be 35-year old, even one that has been as productive as Smith.

And it's not like this isn't the first time the Panthers have shopped Smith only to keep him. It happened a few years ago when Smith was disgruntled with the direction the team was headed.

To cut Smith without compensation makes little sense financially because the Panthers would have to pay him $3 million of the $7 million he is scheduled to count against the salary cap this season.

That's $3 million to play for somebody else.

It's also risky to cut Smith without assurance you're going to sign a proven veteran such as Sidney Rice or Hakeem Nicks to team with up-and-comers and a draft pick. Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon, Carolina's next three wide receivers from 2013, are now on the open market as free agents.

Of those, Ginn is the one Carolina would like to keep because he can return kicks.

Otherwise, the cupboard is bare.

It's also risky to keep Smith now that he knows the team was willing to move on without him. He's a proud and passionate player who surely will take this to heart.

I still think general manager Dave Gettleman ultimately will release Smith despite the support of Blackmore and a recent Charlotte Observer poll in which 84 percent of those that responded said the Panthers should keep him.

So now we play the waiting game.

For those following the Panthers in free agency, Tuesday was a lot like the recent Super Bowl between New England and Seattle. There was a lot of buildup and drama, but in the end not much to get excited about.

The biggest news of the day was offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers made official they are joining left tackle Jordan Gross in retirement. Hangartner has been saying this for months, so it really wasn't a surprise.

The second biggest news was special teamer Jordan Senn is headed to Chicago.

See what I mean.

Re-signing free safety Mike Mitchell remains one of Carolina's priorities, although with strong interest from Philadelphia and Washington the price may go beyond what Gettleman wants to pay with only $7 million in cap space.

After that the Panthers will scour the market for bargains at cornerback and offensive tackle. They let starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn test the market, but even he can't be ruled out returning.

Munnerlyn tested the market a year ago and came back to Carolina for a one-year deal.

Gettleman's strategy is to let the feeding frenzy that occurs at the opening of free agency settle down and then find the diamonds in the rough.

He'll also have to deal with Smith at some point.

But at least for a day, Smith is safe.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For the second time this season, the Carolina Panthers are turning to a veteran they cut during training camp to help an injury situation.

The Panthers flew guard/center Geoff Hangartner into Charlotte on Tuesday to take a physical, and then he was signed Tuesday afternoon.

Hangartner is being brought in to help at right guard. Starter Chris Scott is day-to-day with a sprained knee suffered in the second quarter of Sunday's 34-10 victory over Atlanta.

Backup Jeff Byers was placed on injured reserve after he had season-ending Lisfranc surgery on his left foot on Monday that he also injured in the second quarter.

That left the Panthers with former defensive lineman-turned-backup tackle Nate Chandler playing 41 snaps at guard.

Coach Ron Rivera said on Monday that Chandler will begin the week working with the first team, but acknowledged the team was thin at that spot.

Hangartner appeared to be the starter until he was cut in August so the Panthers could focus on younger players. He started 12 games last season and every game in 2011.

Earlier this season, the Panthers brought back veteran cornerback Drayton Florence after suffering multiple injuries at the position during a Week 2 loss at Buffalo. Florence returned an interception for a touchdown on Sunday.

Former DL could start at right guard

November, 4, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers could start an undrafted player they originally signed to play defensive tackle at right guard when they face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Starting right guard Chris Scott (sprained knee) and backup Jeff Byers (foot) suffered injuries in the second quarter of Sunday's 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons that extended Carolina's winning streak to four straight.

UPDATE: Scott is listed as day-to-day. Byers is out after having Lisfranc surgery on Monday.

Nate Chandler, a backup swing tackle who was signed as an undrafted free agent out of UCLA to play defensive line last year, was in for 41 plays the remainder of the game.

With Bell and Byers both questionable for this week -- with the biggest concern for Byers -- the Panthers (4-3) will begin the week with Chandler as the starter.

"Nate played well,'' coach Ron Rivera said on Monday.

Chandler made the move to the offensive line after moving over to help on the practice squad last season. Line coach John Matsko liked what he saw and asked Rivera if he could try him there permanently.

"He took the challenge and he's been solid there ever since,'' Rivera said.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Good pass protection. Decent run blocking. A quick touchdown.

Who were those guys on the offensive line in the Carolina Panthers' preseason finale?

You probably needed a roster to keep track since most of the starters got Thursday night off or moved to a different position in an effort to develop depth and flexibility during the 25-10 victory over Pittsburgh. And it wasn't like they were facing the "Steel Curtain'' of yesteryear.

But the end result was promising for a unit that has been much maligned throughout the preseason due to injuries. Even though only left guard Travelle Wharton started at the position, he'll likely play on opening day.

"There were a lot of good things that went on and a lot of real positives for us,'' coach Ron Rivera said.

Rivera hasn't said that often during the preseason, and it's still too early to tell whether this unit will be an improvement over last season's that wasn't highly thought off.

The line definitely will get a large dose of attention as general manager Dave Gettleman and the staff trim the roster to 53 on Saturday. Expect them to keep nine players, with two -- guard Amini Silatolu and guard/center Jeff Byers -- nursing injuries that could sideline them for the opener.

Veteran Jordan Gross is set as the left tackle, with Wharton likely to start beside him as he did for many of his first eight seasons in the league at Carolina before being waived. Three-time Pro Bowl selection Ryan Kalil is again at center, with Garry Williams expected to start at right guard and Byron Bell at right tackle.

After that, depth becomes a concern, so the thinking on cut day is strength in numbers.

"We're in a lot better spot than we were in a couple of weeks ago,'' observed Gross, one of those who was given Thursday night off.

One reason is Wharton. Signed on Sunday as a free agent, the former and now current Panther played six snaps against Pittsburgh, the first time he'd been in a game in a year after suffering a knee injury. He more than held his own and the drive ended with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to Ted Ginn, so that was a positive.

"He's a big addition for us,'' Gross said of Wharton. "As soon as he came in the building everybody knew he was a guy we could count on.''

Whether quarterback Cam Newton can count on this group to give him the protection he needs to take the offense to another level remains unclear.

"We're getting better,'' Anderson said. "Obviously, Travelle's going to help us a lot. Every year is different. You've got to evolve and fit guys in where they fit.''