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WR says team called him 'marginal receiver'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Steve Smith lashed out at the Carolina
Panthers
on Thursday for allegedly calling him a "marginal
receiver" while discussing contract options.

Smith, who leads the Panthers in yards receiving (118) and
receptions (12) this season, is due to become a restricted free
agent at the end of the year.

Derrick Fox, his agent, has said the Panthers have contacted him
about extending the deal. But Smith appeared unsure Thursday of
where talks actually stand, and was incensed about comments he
thinks the Panthers made.

"They called us Monday basically spitting in my face about why
I haven't got a contract," Smith said. "I haven't said anything
to them. They called (Fox) and he told me why I haven't got a
contract, because 'I am a marginal receiver' that was a quote on
quote. That's what they told him."

Smith, who will receive $389,000 in base salary this season, led
the Panthers with 872 yards receiving last year and went to the Pro
Bowl as a kick returner in his rookie season (2001).

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney declined to comment about
Smith's rant, or whether negotiations are ongoing.

Fox downplayed what the Panthers actually said to describe
Smith.

"Their latest thing was not to say that he's 'marginal' but
that he's an 'unproven' receiver," Fox said.

Fox said he first spoke to the Panthers about three weeks ago,
and the team told him then they wanted to first finish a deal with
defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. Carolina signed Jenkins to a
five-year, $31 million extension earlier this week.

"Marty came at me and told me that he wants to work a deal with
us, but that first they were going to try to work this deal with
Kris," Fox said. "He said that he wanted to keep Steve a Panther.

"Well, they keep saying they love Steve ... they say Steve's
all that, but then they say that he still has to prove himself."

Smith, undersized for a receiver at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, said
he's been proving himself for his entire career.

"I've been being questioned my whole life, but week in and week
out I continue to make plays," Smith said. "I am not here to have
somebody question my abilities. Why am I here? I am a grown man. I
am not going to do it."

Carolina receiver Karl Hankton then cut Smith off and sent him
into the showers to cool off.

The Panthers have shown commitment to Smith in the past, not
cutting him last season after he beat up another receiver in a film
session. Smith was suspended for one game, and there was public
outcry that he should be released.

Instead, the Panthers have worked with him and sent him to anger
management counseling.