Let’s pretend I’m Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman. And let’s pretend I ask Steve Smith to come to my office at Bank of America Stadium.
I think the conversation would go like this.
PRETEND DAVE GETTLEMAN: “Steve, is that a Bentley you drove up in? I love those cars. I drive a van myself. But that has nothing to do with the reason you’re here. Doughnut?”
FAKE STEVE SMITH: “Is it from Whole Foods?”
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PDG: “Krispy Kreme. Chocolate ice glazed with sprinkles. The hog molly of doughnuts.”
FSS: “I’ll pass.”
PDG: “About passing: You’re not the deep threat you once were. You’ll be 35 when the 2014 season begins, and there’s no such thing as a 35-year-old No. 1 receiver. It can be tough to accept a lesser role. That’s why the Panthers cut Jake Delhomme. They couldn’t ask Jake to stand on the sideline and watch Matt Moore run an offense that once belonged to him.
“Also, and this is important, there are young players we need to evolve into leaders. We worry your presence will inhibit them or even intimidate them.
“Look. We love your work ethic. Nobody on the roster works harder than you do and nobody prepares more professionally. You came up tough. People were always telling you what you couldn’t do. To show them how wrong they were you made sure you were more ready to win than anybody on the field. And when you think some of your teammates, and even coaches, fail to prepare as hard and work as hard, you tell them. We get it.
“Here’s what you need to get. These aren't the Panthers you grew up with. In the old days owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Marty Hurney shared a philosophy. If they drafted a player, and the player performed, they took care of him. Look at Dan Morgan, who was drafted two rounds in front of you in 2001. When Morgan was healthy he was all-Pro. But he was rarely healthy. Despite his history of injuries, the Panthers paid him as if he'd never get hurt again.
“Look at Charles Johnson, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Jon Beason, Julius Peppers and Delhomme. Perform for us and we’ll pay you more than anybody else will. How'd that work out? How many back to back winning seasons has the franchise had?
“I replaced Hurney last season. And I was under no pressure to do things the Panther Way. I was brought in to win. And that means hard choices. I heard a story. Years ago, an elite team traded a near-elite player who was nearing the end of his contract. Panthers decision makers said that could never happen in Carolina. They didn’t treat their players that way, no sir. And it couldn’t have happened in Carolina – then. It can now. It will now. Ask your buddy Jordan Gross. It’s what winning teams do.
“People think I made a mistake last month, Steve, when I publicly talked about you in the past tense. It wasn’t a mistake or I wouldn’t have repeated it. I was trying to get the word out. If I had come to you the way everybody says I should have and said, ‘Steve, we think you should retire,” you would have been shocked. And you would have been angry. You still don’t like it. But you can’t pretend you’re surprised.
“You attended Jordan's retirement ceremony last week. He came into the league two years after you did and, like you, played his entire career for Carolina. I told him to take a pay cut before his final season and he didn't like it. But he agreed. You remember your reaction to the ceremony? You loved the way Jordan went out, forever a Panther. Wouldn’t you like a forever Panther ceremony of your own?
“Steve, you’ve had a fantastic career. You didn’t play in the NFL. You imposed yourself on it. You’ve done a lot for this franchise and this franchise has done a lot for you. So instead of playing what, one more season, why not retire now? This is your legacy we’re talking about, and you get only one. What more do you have to prove? You have health and a Bentley. You have a great family and the Steve Smith Family Foundation, a foundation that will make a difference in a lot of lives. The timing is perfect.
“And if you want to play one more season, or even two, for somebody else, we still want you to retire a Panther. To enable you to finish your career here, we’ll offer you a one-day contract.
“And Steve – don’t hold out.”