On Wednesday the agent for Steve Smith announced that he will not be returning to the Panthers, the only team he has been with since 2001. Smith is a 34 year old wide receiver with 14 years of experience, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdowns. His yardage puts him among the top 20 receivers of all time, and his touchdowns place him tied at 39th. His career stats are good, but he is aging quickly. Smith’s speed was his main weapon, and with his aging body, that speed is also fading fast. He is such a short receiver that he doesn’t have many other skills that would put him over the top, other than the speed he once had. Smith leaving may end up being a blessing in disguise for the Panthers, if they play their cards right.
In one of my previous articles I stated that the Panthers only need a wide receiver to take them over the top, and with the loss of a great wide receiver it would look as if they are in trouble, but not so fast. Cam Newton is the future of this franchise, so the Panthers need wide receivers that he can bond with and have that dynamic duo for a long time. Steve Smith doesn’t have as much time left in the league, so this is actually saving the Panthers cap space to go out and aquire a young wide receiver to form a bond with Cam. The Panthers are a young team and need to put young talent around Cam, whether it is through free agency or through the draft.
Unfortunately the Panthers lost a great receiver, so who is going to replace him you might ask. How about a 26 year old receiver with a Super Bowl ring named Hakeem Nicks. His 6’ 1” build gives Cam a nice sized target to throw to in place of the 5’ 9” Steve Smith. Another option may be the wide receiver from New England – Julian Edelman, the 28 year old receiver, with just over a thousand receiving yards and six touchdowns in his short career. Edelman is on the short side like Smith, so he may give Cam some sort of familiarity. There is another young receiver from Pittsburgh, Emmanuel Sanders – a 27 year old who has 740 receiving yard and six touchdowns. Sander has less production than the others I have mentioned, but that means that there will be less competition to sign him, and with only five years in the league, he still has a while to go. The last one I have in mind for Newton and the Panthers would be Sidney Rice. Yes, he is coming off a torn ACL, which means the cost to acquire him will be much less on the open market than he is actually worth. He is only 27, so he has a good while left in the league if he stays healthy, so the Panthers should low-ball him and see if they can get him cheap.
Say that the free agency is a bust for the Panthers and they get no one. All is not lost, there is the NFL draft, where they can build a good core of wide receivers. The Panthers have the 28th pick in this year’s draft, and that would be the perfect time to get a franchise wide receiver to go with Cam. With the 28th draft pick in this year’s draft the Carolina Panthers should select, the 6’ 5” wide receiver from Florida State, Kelvin Benjamin. He caught the game winning touchdown for Florida State in the national championship, so we got a taste of what he could do in the NFL. With a 6’ 5” build he has an outrageous amount of potential, and could end up having a career similar to Calvin Johnson. We will have to wait and see on that one, but the Panthers need a wide receiver and there lies the perfect fit for him and Newton to bond together and be that force in the NFL no team could stop. Another receiver that the Panthers could draft later in the draft is Brandon Coleman – a monster, towering at 6’ 6”, and there may not be a defense back in the league that could guard him. He played at Rutgers for three years and mounted 1743 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He is projected 147th overall, fourth to fifth round, but the Panthers may think about taking him in the third round. He is only 22, and he and Newton could be a dominating force, especially if they draft Benjamin as well. Cam and Coleman would be a combo that would be a force in the league for a long time, and would cause matchup problems for any team they would face.
So Steve Smith may be leaving the Panthers, but Panther fans should be saying, “See ya Steve.”