- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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The damage control has begun.
Gettleman is the one taking the heat for this move that has been bungled because of the way it was handled. So it was fitting that Gettleman stepped forward to explain the decision.
Here's what he said:
"When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way. To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it’s the right one.
"As I’ve stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers. Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.
"Sometimes it may appear that short-term interests will suffer, and I can assure you we have no interest in taking a step back from our 2013 accomplishments. Nevertheless, like all NFL teams, we are in transition as we try to get into the best position going forward. When Mr. Richardson hired me I promised him that my goal would be to leave the Panthers in a better position than when I came. All my efforts are in that vein.
"Over the next few months we will have the opportunities afforded by free agency and the college draft to improve our roster. We also have young players who will get an opportunity. I have great trust in our evaluation process.
"Steve had a wonderful career with the Carolina Panthers. I truly wish him and his wife, Angie, all of God’s blessings."
What Gettleman didn't say is why he felt Smith should be dumped. He didn't say Smith was getting old -- turning 35 in May -- and less productive. He didn't say there was a fear Smith might be a distraction in the development of young players and the continuing leadership of quarterback Cam Newton.
He didn't give the concrete reasons that led to this decision.
The statement probably won't win Gettleman any popularity with fans who already are disgruntled with the move that has been anticipated since it was reported three days ago that Smith was being shopped. The best way Gettleman can win back favor is to make moves to improve the team.
Signing Hakeem Nicks, a Charlotte, N.C., native, might help.
Ultimately, Gettleman's reputation rests in what happens on the field in 2014. He took a similar route in free agency last season, looking for bargain players and releasing a few veterans with big contracts.
The result was a 12-4 record and NFC South title.
Gettleman said it's imperative to take an "unemotional global view." That sounds good in theory. But when you're dumping a player of Smith's reputation and stature in the community after 13 seasons, it's imperative that you do it in a way that doesn't become a PR disaster.
This was from the moment Gettleman began talking about Smith in the past tense last month at the NFL combine in Indianapolis without talking to Smith first.
There is nothing he can do about that now. There is nothing in a five-paragraph statement that will make Smith or his true followers feel any differently about the man charged with building the franchise.
Gettleman knows that, but you can't blame him for trying a bit of damage control.
Now he can focus on building for 2014.
That is his best source of damage control.