Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NFL free agency started this week, so that's why you're seeing several reports of pro football players being signed, re-signed, traded, or released. The Carolina Panthers rarely do anything exciting during free agency--sometimes they hand out big contracts to keep important players intact, but the team doesn't usually bring in a star during this period. And maybe they don't have to. But what they have to do right now is keep Steve Smith.

The Smiths. Credit:

There are all these different media reports about Smitty's fate, and what could take place this week between him and the Panthers (just Google Steve Smith right now and read). The two most-predicted scenarios are that the team will either trade him or release him. I understand how professional sports work. The players are treated like family, but when they start to age and become less productive, they're reminded that pro sports, especially the NFL where contracts aren't guaranteed, is a business. We've seen countless players play their entire careers with one team, earning many accolades and breaking records along the way, only to be pushed out once they reach their mid-30s. Steve turns 35 in May.

There's a "Save Steve Smith," #SaveSmitty campaign underway on social media.

But here's why the Steve Smith/Carolina Panthers situation is different. To put it plainly, the Panthers don't have the resume to get rid of Steve. As my grandma and 'em used to say, they're smelling themselves, meaning they think they're more than what they are. Now, allow me to elaborate.

The Panthers are a relatively young franchise--2014 will be the team's 20th season. During those first 19 years, the Panthers have never had back-to-back winning seasons. Their all-time regular season record is a losing one: 144-160.

For several years, Steve was one of the only bright spots on the team. He gave us reasons to watch, when he made spectacular catches, amassed huge yardage, celebrated in the end zone, and snatched cornerbacks up by the collars during countless scuffles.

And let's not forget the abysmal 2009 and 2010 seasons, between the end of Jake Delhomme's tenure as the Panthers' starting QB and before Cam Newton's. Steve stuck with the team, when he was in his prime and could've asked to be traded for the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender.

Steve's stats may have been down during the 2013 season, but he still led the team in catches and receiving yards.

He's played all 13 seasons of his NFL career so far with the Panthers. The way the league is now, with the over abundance of trading, the Panthers will likely never have another wide receiver play that long for them. So I think it's safe to say his team record of 836 receptions and 12,197 yards will never be surpassed, except by him if he is allowed to continue playing for the Panthers.

Steve is currently 19th on the NFL's all-time career receiving yards list. Only 600 yards separate him from the 15th spot held by Irving Fryar. So basically, if Steve plays in 2014, he should finish the season ranked 15th or 16th all-time--Andre Johnson, another active, top-notch receiver, is currently ranked two spots above him and would likely rise several more spots, therefore pushing everyone he surpasses down one. The Panthers will likely never have another top-15, or top-20 for that matter, all-time receiver again.

When his playing days are over, Steve will eventually make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making him the first career-long Panthers player to do so. It would be so much sweeter on that fateful day if No. 89 is able to say he only wore black, white, and blue his entire NFL career.

I know many within the Panthers organization are looking ahead to the future and are excited about the possibilities. The team has a star quarterback in Cam Newton and a star linebacker in Luke Kuechly. Cam turns 25 years old in May and Luke turns 23 in April, so these two have the potential to be the dominant faces of the franchise for the next decade.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has been with the team three years and general manager Dave Gettleman one year. They're the two, especially the GM, who'll have the most say on what happens with Steve. Let's hope they realize how valuable he is to not only lifelong Panthers fans, but also future ones.


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