It might be the end of an era for the best player in Carolina Panthers history.
Shutdown Corner can confirm the report of NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that the Panthers are trying to trade wide receiver Steve Smith, the franchise leader in receiving yards and playoff touchdowns, who has played with the team since it made him a third-round pick in 2001.
[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]
Smith is due to make $7 million next season on a contract he signed (under former GM Marty Hurney) believing it would keep him a Panther for life. That isn't likely now.
The Panthers likely will release Smith if they can't trade him. Hurney has been replaced by Dave Gettleman, who was wishy washy at the scouting combine about Smith's future, as was head coach Ron Rivera. Smith has said he is not ready to stop playing.
At 34, Smith is coming off a season in which he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns. For his career, he ranks 25th in NFL history with 836 catches and 19th all-time with 12,197 receiving yards. His entire career has been with the Panthers.
On Monday, the Panthers removed the sale of Smith's jersey from their website.
In what might have been his final game as a Panther, Smith returned early from a strained PCL injury a few weeks earlier to score a first-half touchdown and gain 74 yards in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
If Smith were to be released, keep in mind the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots as possible landing spots. Smith is close with Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and WR coach Fred Graves, and the Patriots are famous for reviving veterans' careers. Smith also might not pass on the chance to play within the division with a chance at retribution twice per season, if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints came calling.
Smith has been upset with the lack of communication between the Panthers' front office and his agent. He has not heard what the team's plans for him have been, only getting news of his future through media reports.
Although Smith and Gettleman met last week to "clear the air," according to people familiar with the meeting, little was accomplished in that brief session.
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Over the past month at Shutdown Corner, we've taken a look at free agency from every angle. The teams looking to improve their rosters. The players looking to cash in. The best players and best bargains at each position.
Did you miss any of it? No problem. Pass the time before the free-agent frenzy starts at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday with the links to our comprehensive previews:
The free agents
Ranking all of the key offensive players
Does Jairus Byrd or Eugene Monroe deserve the top spot?
No franchise guys here, but Michael Vick leads a group of interesting vets.
Teams don't invest in this position anymore, but there are a few guys that could gain 1,000 yards this season in the right situation.
This is the best position group of any in free agency. A lot of impact players hitting the market.
Teams are putting more value on versatile safeties, and that's great news for Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward.
No great players here but some contributors. A player like Washington's Perry Riley could be a nice find for some team, and a few have middle linebacker issues.
After Everson Griffen signed his huge deal, the market was set. Players like Michael Johnson are going to break the bank.
Team-by-team offseason blueprints (by draft order)
1. Houston Texans
Forget free agency, "QB or no QB" for the first overall pick is their fascinating dilemma.
2. Washington Redskins
A lot of work to do, especially on defense. The secondary needs a boost.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The question continues to be, what will they do at quarterback? They re-signed Chad Henne, which isn't the answer.
4. Cleveland Browns
One of the most interesting teams this offseason, with some good pieces, a ton of cap room and an extra first-round pick.
5. Oakland Raiders
Not franchising Jared Veldheer or Lamarr Houston was curious, but there's got to be some plan ... right?
6. Atlanta Falcons
The defensive line is a big priority. If not via free agency, can they trade up for Jadeveon Clowney?
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lovie Smith apparently wants a veteran quarterback. Let's see how much of their valuable resources they pour into that.
8. Minnesota Vikings
Their big move had to be the Everson Griffen signing. They better hope it pays off.
9. Buffalo Bills
They're going to lose a player who is considered one of the two or three best free agents on the market, Jairus Byrd. That's not a good way to start an offseason.
10. Detroit Lions
Can they finally find a No. 2 receiver opposite Calvin Johnson?
11. Tennessee Titans
The Chris Johnson situation didn't get settled over the weekend, but it has to soon.
12. New York Giants
They have some high-quality free agents, which just adds to the holes they need to fill.
They were rumored to be the top candidate to land Michael Bennett, but he's staying in Seattle.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
Do they have the cap room to make a big splash at offensive line? That would help.
16. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are way too salary-cap stressed to make any major moves.
17. Baltimore Ravens
If Eugene Monroe can't get the huge deal he wants, perhaps the Ravens could retain one of their stars.
18. New York Jets
If this is MIchael Vick's landing spot, it would be fascinating. The Jets' circus would start up again.
19. Miami Dolphins
It appears they're going to land left tackle Branden Albert, which would fill an enormous need.
20. Arizona Cardinals
They need help on the offensive line, and there are plenty of intriguing free agents that would be an instant upgrade.
21. Green Bay Packers
Will Ted Thompson finally (gasp!) sign a free agent?
22. Philadelphia Eagles
Already did their work by extending key pieces like Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Will DeSean Jackson stick around too?
23. Kansas City Chiefs
They have three of the top free-agent offensive linemen on the market. Can they re-sign any of them?
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Probably losing Michael Johnson. Already lost both coordinators. Can they do anything this offseason to regain some momentum?
25. San Diego Chargers
Defense, defense, defense. It has to improve.
26. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts might need as much defensive help as the Chargers. Signing linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, cut by the Browns, helps.
27. New Orleans Saints
It has already been a tough offseason with a lot of veterans cut loose, and the Jimmy Graham battle casts a cloud over the offseason.
28. Carolina Panthers
Franchising Greg Hardy was their big move. Do they have enough cap room for another?
29. New England Patriots
Just getting healthy over the offseason will be the Patriots' biggest improvement.
30. San Francisco 49ers
They have two important and interesting contract extension issues: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and coach Jim Harbaugh.
31. Denver Broncos
Despite the Super Bowl loss, they're in fine shape. Even better if they can land a big free agent like safety T.J. Ward.
32. Seattle Seahawks
The champs don't need any major help.
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