Look, I am glad that Panther general manager Dave Gettleman is evaluating everyone on the roster closely. That is what he was hired to do and that is what he should do.
But Steve Smith getting outright released -- an option that is obviously on the table?! That doesn't make sense to me. It sounds like over-thinking it, aand gambling more than you should. (Smith, for his part, said very little of substance in an ESPN interview Thursday about the situation).
Gettleman's results have been solid -- and occasionally spectacular -- since he joined the Panthers before the 2013 season with the charge to remake the team. He has done so much well: Finding Mike Mitchell and Ted Ginn Jr. for bargain-basement prices in 2013. Extending coach Ron Rivera's contract. Drafting Star Lotulelei. Turning a terrible salary-cap situation into a manageable one. Gettleman has Carolina in position to have its first back-to-back winning seasons ever. His first Carolina team went 12-5 and made the playoffs.
But the receiving corps was a Panther weakness last season. In the San Francisco playoff game, the 49ers employed both of the best receivers playing in the game.
Smith, 34, is no longer a No.1 receiver in the NFL, and the Panthers should not ask him to be that. They need to find a new No.1 and let Smith be their No.2 -- in fact, they should have found the new No.1 guy already, but have misfired numerous times over the years trying to do so.
But firing Smith just doesn't make sense to me. He scored Carolina's only touchdown in the playoff loss. He had 64 catches for 745 yards and four TDs last year. His teammates voted his fourth-and-10 catch against Miami as the most important play of the 2013 season in a locker room poll I took. Absolutely he has lost a step and doesn't get the separation he used to -- Smith wouldn't argue with that -- but he still has the hands and he still has the craftiness. He can still play.
It makes sense, certainly, to ask him if he will restructure his contract to lessen the salary-cap hit. The Panthers and Smith should work out some sort of understanding.
But if Gettleman releases him, that will be a mistake. The GM doesn't have anyone waiting in the wings. He can't necessarily draft a WR at No.28 in the first round, either, because offensive tackle is just as pressing of a need. It is too much of a gamble to try and replace at least your top two and possibly your top three receivers in a single offseason (if Ted Ginn Jr. doesn't stay).
I am not saying this because Smith and I are close friends. We are longtime acquaintances and I respect him greatly for all he has done on the field and in the community, but we don't go to movies together. I am well aware of his faults.
I am basing this blog purely on the performance we saw from Smith in 2013. Quarterback Cam Newton looked either to Smith or tight end Greg Olsen first every time it was crunch time last season. No.89 still has some time left in the NFL, and it would be better spent in a Panther uniform.