Which is to say that Steve Smith almost certainly won’t be a Panther much longer. From a salary cap standpoint, trading a player is pretty much the same as cutting a player, except the team gets something back in return. And if the Panthers are willing to take the $2 million cap to trade Smith for whatever the team can get, they are extremely likely to also take the cap hit to simply cut him.
Is this surprising? Maybe. Smith’s numbers in 2013 certainly weren’t great. He caught 64 passes but only four of those receptions were for 20 yards or more. Smith also had fewer yards after the catch (184) than Greg Olson (318), Brandon LaFell (262), or Ted Ginn (197). So Smith is just a posssession receiver at this point in his career. Given the cap situation, I thought Smith might have lasted another year. His base salary increases 2015 and especially 2016, which was going to be a problem going forward.
Given his 2013 production, this may well be a signal that David Gettleman doesn’t think Smith can make the transition to/accept being the #2 wide receiver.
Where would this leave the Panthers? Jordan Gross’ retirement left a huge hole at left tackle, and while resigning Garry Williams and tendering Byron Bell, which the Panthers did yesterday, is a solution, it isn’t a particularly good one. The guards might not be much better. The wide receiver position is in complete disarray, with Steve Smith apparently on the way out and the #2, #3, and #4 WRs (LaFell, Ginn, and Domenik Hixon) are all unrestricted free agents. Which means the Panthers essential have Cam Newton, Greg Olson, Ryan Kalil, too many over-paid running backs and not much else on offense. And it’s not like the offense was that great in 2013.
The salary cap situation is a mess too, with the Panthers having only $7 millionish, and that’s before resign Williams, Richie Brochel, and tendering Bell. So expect some contract renegotiations — Charles Johnson comes to mind — and more veteran players being released (Charles Godfrey?).
Bonus thought: 2013 was a year where everything came together and the Panthers made the playoffs. I’m starting to get a sense that the team could regresses back down to 7-9 or 6-10 in 2014.