The whole thought of it is shocking, but that's the subject of the article "Panthers May Be Locked In At (Drafting A) Receiver", at walterfootball.com, dated Sept. 17th (after the 1st game where Smith had 8 catches for 178 yards with 2 TD's). here are the most important quotes from the article.
"Sources said the first reason (Steve) Smith will be gone after this season is that he's starting to decline physically. ... The other definitive reason my sources said he will be moving on is because next season is the last year of his contract with a large cap figure. That is likely to cause him to be released or traded after the season. The Panthers won't be willing to pay it, so if they can't trade him then he will be cut. The tone from the sources was that the team wouldn't be interested in restructuring his cap figure with a new contract."
Something just seems a little off about this story to me. The way JR showed his loyalty to his players by re-signing so many this year to generous contracts, it just seem out of character to dump Steve Smith. Smith's salary next year is only $750,000 more than the $7 million he will earn this season. With the great connection between Cam and Steve, why would the Panthers throw that away before they are sure they can duplicate it with another WR? Why would they not keep Smith for the final year of his contract, until they're sure his replacement (likely drafted in 2012) isn't another Jarrett?
If this is true the Panthers will be locked into drafting a WR in the 1st round. Before this news a 1st round WR pick might well have been Alshon Jeffery (6-4, 235, 4.50 to 4.56-40), but if Smith leaves that might shift to Justin Blackmon (6-1, 215, 4.48-40), because LaFell and Gettis are already big WR's that have produced, while Edwards and Pilares have yet to prove themselves as NFL WR's.