CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 11: Fans cheer as Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers passes 10,000 total receiving yards during the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Editor's note: I'm back in the USA folks! After three amazing weeks in Australia I'm currently back home.
It's impossible to grade Steve Smith any way other than A+. In a off-season that started with Smitty in flux, ultimately it was Ron Rivera, Marty Hurney and Cam Newton who sold the 32 year old WR on their vision of the Carolina Panthers
, and their plans for the football team moving forward. Make no mistake, this was no small task, but we saw Steve Smith return to dominance in 2011 and prove that he's still one of the best WRs in football.
There's no single stat you could want better performance in, except maybe the three fumble, but that would be nit-picking. He finished 5th in the NFL in receiving yards, and had a ludicrous 17.6 yards per reception that was fueled by 29 catches of 20+ yards. This was due to Smitty and Cam forming a bond early, which translated into big plays in 2011.
More after the jump
- Week 1 vs. Arizona: 8 receptions, 178 yards, 2 TDs
- Week 4 vs. Chicago: 8 receptions, 181 yards
- Week 7 vs. Washington: 7 receptions, 143 yards
2012 Contract Status
Smitty is entering the final year of a 6-year extension he signed in 2007. It remains to be seen how much the arrival of Cam Newton will influence Smith long term. There's no doubt he was rejuvenated with the young signal caller under center, but it wouldn't be surprising if Smith chooses to ride off into the sunset to spend some time with his family, even if he's still on top. I know he's gone on the record to say he wants to play another 4 years, but anyone whose followed Smith for any time knows he's mercurial.
I believe the best chance the Panthers would have to keep Smitty another 2-3 years would be if Carolina made a deep playoff run, but missed out on playing in the Super Bowl. If somehow we were able to get so close to greatness then I could definitely see Smith electing to come out and try to finish the job.
There's no reason to believe Smith will slow up next season. He and Cam Newton have formed a close bond and as such I fully expect another 1,000 yard season from Smitty in 2012. It's easy to get romantic and sentimental when it comes to Steve Smith and wonder what could be if he was just 5 years younger, but as it stands I'm willing to enjoy the ride and watch every amazing catch and throw from a Newton/Smith pairing until Smitty decides to hang it up, walk off the field and stroll onto the ring of honor.