There's an old superstition that if your palms are itchy it means money is coming to you. At this point my palms are definitely itching, but it's because football is coming rather than money (but hey, the latter would always be nice!). Despite some late week scares and pessimism it now looks like we will finally get this CBA ratified and football can begin. In the wake of rampant speculation and postulation about what the Carolina Panthers will do in free agency, there's one more itch that can't get scratched- will Steve Smith play for the Panthers again?
As Jaxon wrote today there are several camps, including former Panthers' beat writer Darin Gantt who believe in an unofficial free agency that's been going on for months now. Despite teams being told to stay away from players, there's little doubt all 32 teams found every single loophole to talk to players as much as possible during this period. One must wonder how much contact Steve Smith has had with the organization, while we still try and intuit where his head is at.
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The lingering question for Panthers' fans is: "Has the team done enough to placate Steve Smith?"
There have been a lot of mutually beneficial moves for both the Panthers and Smith that have occurred which could keep him in Charlotte. The addition of a new quarterback who figures to be everything Jimmy Clausen wasn't, a new coaching staff that will open up the offense and give Smith more opportunities, and the hiring of Fred Graves as WR coach; a close personal friend of Smitty, who was his WR coach at the University of Utah. All of these factors lead to a situation where the Carolina Panthers' organization should be a lot more attractive to Steve Smith.
However, it's that word should which becomes so operative in this equation; ultimately the Carolina Panthers are missing the one thing he craves the most, winning. There aren't many players in the NFL more misunderstood that the mercurial Smith who is perceived around the league as the classic spoiled WR, but in reality he's just a competitor. For Steve Smith to be happy, Steve Smith needs to be contributing to the successes of a team. It's not enough for him to just be on a good team, but he wants to be an integral part of an organization's success. For this reason I never expect him to choose to be a 4th receiver on a Super Bowl favorite, over being the #2 guy on a playoff team.
During the lockout we've heard the rumors about Smith wanting to be traded. Beat writer Steve Reed has said he prefers the San Diego Chargers or Baltimore Ravens, should he be traded. Many sources have gone so far as to say Smith 'demanded' a trade, while Smitty himself refutes the report; it's tough to get a read on the situation. Because it is so tough to get a firm idea of where he's at we've turned to reading into a lot of situations, trying desperately to understand what will happen. A burgeoning relationship with Cam Newton could be seen as a positive in keeping Smith in Carolina, while the lack of recent talk about his trade could point to the same. Concurrently, a lack of information on Smith's part could be him zipping his lip to help facilitate a trade.
One thing's for certain, the Carolina Panthers wont get fair market value for Smith should the choose to trade him, but this is oftentimes the case when trying to move a disgruntled player. We need to cast our eyes to the move that sent Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens prior to the 2010 draft for a 3rd and 4th round pick. Both Boldin and Smith had five 1,000 yard receiving season, yet at the time of the trade Boldin was 29 to Smith's current 32. Should a team look to acquire him it would likely take little more than a 3rd round pick. This is a tough pill to swallow for fans, but it would likely be tougher to have him play for the Panthers and be a distraction.
Its been said that this free agent period could be the most important in team history. Between the pro bowl caliber veterans needing contracts, a spate of valuable players on the open market and a new coaching staff it proves to be an integral moment that will shape the organization for the next 5-7 years. Whether Smith makes it through this transition is still up in the air, and sadly we'll just have to wait.