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Sorensen: Smith on his way out of Carolina?

I wrote last week about the case the Carolina Panthers would make to release Steve Smith or convince him to retire. I wanted to be wrong. I really wanted to be wrong.

I don’t think I was wrong.

The NFL Network reported Monday the Panthers were trying to trade Smith, which is unlikely because of salary-cap ramifications.

The leak undoubtedly came not from the mime-like Panthers but from a team with which they were dangling Smith.

If the Panthers don’t trade Smith, I suspect they cut him this week, perhaps Tuesday.

Some of you will be thrilled. He will turn 35 in May. Also, he spins the ball.

I’m not thrilled.

This is a foolish move by a franchise that appeared to stop making them.

General manager Dave Gettleman was golden last season, his first in the job. But he has mangled the Smith negotiations. If Gettleman wants him out, he should have told the receiver before he told the media.

Perhaps Gettleman wanted to talk publicly about Smith’s tenuous hold on a roster spot so Smith would know he was serious. Perhaps Gettleman wanted to let Smith know indirectly before he told him directly.

But Smith deserved better. If you believe anybody but Smith is the best player in team history, you are new to the Panthers and perhaps professional football.

Yes, Smith often was angry. He played angry. He played like a 5-foot-9 guy who had been told repeatedly he was too small and, of late, too old. He dedicated his career to proving his detractors wrong. He worked and he prepared as hard as any player on the roster. That’s not my opinion. Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera said so, independently, last summer at training camp.

A question: When the best player in team history is the hardest working player on the team, this is: (A) bad or (B) good?

You don’t think Smith still can play? If a receiver was double-teamed last season, it was him. The receiver who attracted an opponent’s best cornerback? Still him. If there was a fight or near fight, an altercation or a scuffle, Smith was going to be in it. He was a Panther, and if his teammates needed him, he was there.

OK, he would have been there even if they didn’t.

Smith’s presence and personality are oversized, and because of that, he might have impeded younger players from pushing past him to assume a leadership role on offense. Nobody who would know has told me this. But perhaps Carolina believes quarterback Cam Newton will not emerge as a leader as long as Smith is in the huddle and the locker room.

If Smith goes, it’s not primarily about money. It’s because management contends the team is better without Smith than it is with him.

This is Gettleman’s team. He has more authority than his predecessor, Marty Hurney, did. He might have more authority than anybody in the organization ever has.

He wouldn’t make the move without consulting people he trusts. But, ultimately, the call is his.

Could Jerry Richardson, who owns the team, intercede? Of course he could. He would if this were, say, linebacker Thomas Davis, who leads the defense. But Davis is a Richardson favorite and a Panther as long as he chooses to be.

As recently as January, I would have said Smith, too, is a Panther for life.

If Gettleman lets Smith go, where does he go? Does Smith go quietly into life after football and retire a Panther?

I doubt that. If you had options, would you allow your employer to treat you the way the Panthers have treated Smith?

Imagine him in the slot with New England, catching passes from Tom Brady. Imagine Eric Decker leaving Denver for a big contract elsewhere and Smith sliding into his place, suddenly a fan of former coach John Fox.

Imagine Smith with Tampa Bay or Atlanta, and the Panthers having to contend with him twice a season.

Imagine him with New Orleans and Drew Brees, unless you’d rather not

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