The relationship between the Carolina Panthers and wide receiver Steve Smith was officially severed Thursday when the team released the 13-year veteran.
It didn’t take Smith very long to find a new home — only about 24 hours.
In fact, by the time Carolina fans were still trying to figure out what general manager Dave Gettleman’s plan is for the team, Smith was in Baltimore discussing a deal.
Smith, after playfully putting his foot in his mouth during an appearance on a Charlotte radio station, handled the departure like the professional that he has grown into as a Panther.
“It wasn’t that I don’t like the organization,” Smith said. “I have nothing but respect. My teammates have been telling how much they are going to miss me. I have no ill feelings and I’m not upset. I can’t be upset at an organization that gave me everything and allowed me to display for other teams that I can still play.”
Smith, like everyone else in the NFL, understands his days as the No. 1 receiver are over, but he can be very productive in the right situation on the right team. Smith said in addition to being contacted by the Ravens, New England, San Diego, Seattle and Washington expressed an interest in his services.
And now that Smith is in Baltimore, Gettleman has watched the team’s top three wide receivers from last season walk out the door. Smith caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns. Brandon LaFell had 49 receptions for 627 yards and five touchdowns. Ted Ginn finished with 36 catches for 556 yards and five scores. Also, Domenik Hixon added seven catches for 55 yards and the game-winning touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
Carolina has lost 156 catches for 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns from last season. In other words, 53 percent of the receptions, 59 percent of the passing yards and 63 percent of the touchdown catches are no longer in Cam Newton’s arsenal.
There is no need to worry if you are a fan of the Panthers because Brenton Bersin, Toney Clemons, Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt, Kealoha Pilares and R.J. Webb and their combined five NFL catches are all on the current roster.
To say the wide receiver position will be a draft need is an understatement, but this isn’t the only spot where Gettleman will have to fill needs.
On the defensive side of the ball, Carolina’s front seven are as good as any in the NFL, but last season’s no-name secondary became a problem area. Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn signed elsewhere, while Drayton Florence, Quintin Mikell and D.J. Moore are still free agents. The team re-signed James Dockery and picked up Roman Harper.
The Panthers should target receiving and secondary help early in the draft as well as a replacement for starting tackle Jordan Gross.
Experts are calling this draft one of the deepest in recent memory in regards to receivers, so Gettleman could wait until the third or fourth round to select one. It is doubtful Gettleman or coach Ron Rivera will want to go into training camp with as an inexperienced wide receiver corps as it is looking like on paper right now.
There are a handful of veteran receivers still on the market that will more than likely still be out there at the conclusion of the draft. But will they be better than the ones Gettleman let walk away?
Probably not, but this is the situation Gettleman has created for himself.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.