Carolina Panthers Retrospective
STATE OF THE PANTHERS (Part 3): Smith frustrated, but will the team consider moving him? E-mail
Written by Steve Reed   
Thursday, 10 February 2011 16:47
Brayton

DE Tyler Brayton had no sacks in the regular season. Could he be a salary cap casualty? (AP Photo)

     TO OUR READERS: In the third part of a five-part series on the Panthers, we discuss with general manager Marty Hurney some of the personnel decisions facing the team, including the future of Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith. On Friday, we’ll talk about who the Panthers will look to re-sign and whether or not their strategy in free agency has changed.


   CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers have plenty of personnel decisions to make this offseason, but none will garner as much attention as what will happen with four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, arguably the team’s most popular player.
   Smith, who’ll turn 32 this summer, discussed the possibility of being traded with team owner Jerry Richardson this past season, according to two league sources.
   Whether or not the Panthers even consider that idea at the appropriate time remains to be seen.
   At this point, they can’t think about moving him until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place and there’s no guarantee they will attempt to trade him even when the stalemate ends.
   While general manager Marty Hurney wouldn’t discuss any private conversations the Panthers have had with Smith or his agent, he did acknowledge the team’s star receiver is extremely frustrated.
   “I think Steve is probably not unlike everybody in the building — he was not happy with 2-14,” Hurney said. “Different people handle frustrations in different ways, but I think it comes down to frustration. I think it comes down to, in the coming months, we have to make the right decisions that will instill that confidence in the people outside the building and inside the building. It’s all part of a process.”

 

   When asked if he wants Smith to be a part of the team’s future, Hurney was quick to respond, “Sure, he’s an impact player.”

   Smith’s production has fallen off dramatically the last two seasons, but he hasn’t had much help from the quarterback position.

   “He’s an impact player who I’m sure has been frustrated that he hasn’t played as large a part in the offense as he feels he’s capable of doing, and that can be for a lot of reasons,” Hurney said. “It’s very difficult going through a 2-14 season. There are a lot of things we have to work out, and getting our passing game back to where it gives us a chance to win football games is one of our priorities.”

   Attempts to contact Smith have been unsuccessful.

   Smith has remained mum on the topic, last speaking to the media after the team’s season finale in Atlanta when he reiterated he planned to sit down with his wife and family and talk about his future before making any decisions.

   It probably doesn’t help matters that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has stayed in school, depriving Smith of a chance to play with arguably the most highly-touted young quarterback in the last decade.

   Smith has clashed at times with last year’s rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen, first telling him off on the sidelines during a game and then again later in the media when Clausen apologized for his poor play to linebacker Jon Beason rather than the guys in the offensive huddle.

   “This isn’t Notre Dame anymore,” Smith chided at the time.

   The Panthers have tried their best to appease the emotional Smith in different ways, hiring Fred Graves, his position coach at Utah, to coach the team’s receivers. They also added former teammate Ricky Proehl as an assistant to Ron Rivera’s staff, proving the team is at least listening to some of Smith’s suggestions from the past.

   But when it comes right down to it, Smith’s future in Carolina could be tied directly to what happens with the current CBA talks.

   If there is no agreement by March 4, the owners will lock out the players. And if that lockout extends beyond the NFL draft in late April, it might preclude the Panthers from thinking about trading him since what they’d likely want in exchange is draft picks.

   The team has other tough personnel decisions as well.

   Among the players whose contracts expire March 4 include quarterback Matt Moore, running back DeAngelo Williams, tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario, defensive end Charles Johnson, linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson, and cornerback Richard Marshall.

   Williams is the biggest name on that list, at least in terms of name value.

   A Pro Bowl running back two years ago, he missed most of last season with a foot injury but did not need surgery.

   The Panthers would like him back, but it seems foolish to overpay when they have Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson waiting in the wings. The idea of having three quality backs is intriguing to the Panthers, and while some have suggested they ought to trade one of the three, Hurney said the Panthers like the idea of keeping the team’s biggest strength just that.

   So it doesn’t sound like any of the running backs on the roster will be up on the trade block.

   If Williams hits the free agent market, he’ll break the bank.

   He’s that good.

   You can bet teams like the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and John Fox-coached Denver Broncos will be falling all over themselves for his services, especially since he has plenty of tread left on his tires.

   It’s possible, although certainly not etched in stone, the Panthers could use the franchise tag on Williams, a move that would pay him close to $10 million next season.

   However, that tag could also go to Johnson or Kalil.

   NFL teams were allowed to begin using the tags on Thursday and have until Feb. 24 to tag players, although the players union is arguing the tag is irrelevant since there won’t be a collective bargaining agreement.

   In the meantime, the Panthers might also consider cutting a few players.

   Defensive end Tyler Brayton would seem a logical candidate. Despite being a full-time starter in 2010, Brayton failed to register a sack and finished 16th on the team in tackles with 22. He’s scheduled to make more than $3.5 million next season.

   Cornerback Chris Gamble, who fell into John Fox’s doghouse last season and missed the final five games with an injury, is due to make $6.24 million in 2011 and it’s conceivable he could be a salary cap casualty.

   And even though the team loves guard Travelle Wharton, a $5.4 million base salary seems a little high for a guy who has never even sniffed the Pro Bowl.

   But the biggest question surrounds which of their own 28 potential free agents the Panthers try to re-sign this offseason and what type of free agents they might target this offseason.

   We’ll have more on that tomorrow.