As of this very moment, Steve Smith is still a Carolina Panther. By the time this article is posted, who knows. It’s been so widely reported that it’s practically scientific law – the Panthers will either trade or release the best player in franchise history. As a lifelong Panther fan and a member of the media attempting objectivity, this story is as tough as it gets. Despite occasional highs, the Panthers have never been a consistent winner. Through the last 13 seasons, Panther fans could only count on one thing: 89 would leave everything on the field. His tenacity is perhaps the only positive memory from the tail end of the Fox era into the early Rivera era. For everything he’s done, I believe he should be able to leave the franchise on his own terms, within reason.
I consider one more year when he’s still the Panthers’ best weapon in the passing game to be within reason. Pushing sentimental reasons aside, cutting him would save between $2 to $4 million against the cap in 2014. That number depends on when they make the cut and how much dead money they’re willing to stomach next year. Can Panthers GM Dave Gettleman replace 64 catches and 745 yards with only $2 to $4 million in savings? Maybe, but it’s not a given. And that brings us to where a few others have already ventured:
If it's not skill and it's not money it must be personal, right? RT @MikeScottL: can you explain what the upside of SS getting cut is?
— Darin Gantt (@daringantt) March 11, 2014
A handful of journalists with access to the organization have reported that the Panthers brass is worried about Smith’s presence in the locker room. The fear is that Carolina won’t fully be Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly’s locker room with Smitty hanging around. I can’t make a counter argument because I’m not in that locker room. I do find it interesting that there hasn’t been a single “Anonymous Panther Rips Steve Smith” story though.
To recap, here are Gettleman’s motives for cutting Smith:
- He’s NFL old and somewhat overpaid for his level of production.
- Cutting him would save $2 to $4 million for this season and more down the road.
- He has a strong personality and that could hinder the changing of the guard.
Are those combined reasons enough to say goodbye to Smitty? For me, they aren’t. He still makes plays. And while the Hurney era’s sentimentality is a reason the organization is still in “cap hell,” marginally overpaying for one more year to retain your top receiver who happens to be the best player in franchise history isn’t unreasonable.
Steve Smith can’t play forever. He’ll have to exit stage left, and soon, but he’s earned that moment in Bank of America Stadium where both he and the fans know it’s his last game. He’s earned the right to leave on his own terms.