Early speculation gained momentum and became white hot, now we can officially say that Steve Smith is no longer a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Smith was released Thursday, announced by the team via their Twitter account. It's the end of an era and the beginning of a new, one that doesn't involve the 34-year-old receiver being in a leadership position. This is now Cam Newton's team, his offense and time for the young quarterback to take the next step.
The decision to release Smith might initially seem motivated by money, but sources tell Cat Scratch Reader that this was based far more on locker room dynamics. No press conference has been scheduled at this time and it's unclear if we'll hear publicly from the veteran.
General Manager Dave Gettleman called the Panthers a "team in transition" according to Ian Rapoport, adding the decision wasn't easy.
There are serious questions that need to be answered before September. The Panthers have no No.1 receiver, are without a left tackle and have issues in the secondary. Free agency and the draft will help answer these, and rest assured there is a plan -- but it's unclear if the organization has enough money to adequately fill those needs this year.
Update: General manager Dave Gettleman released the following statement, via Panthers.com
When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way. To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it's the right one.
As I've stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers. Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view.
Sometimes it may appear that short-term interests will suffer, and I can assure you we have no interest in taking a step back from our 2013 accomplishments. Nevertheless, like all NFL teams, we are in transition as we try to get into the best position going forward. When Mr. Richardson hired me I promised him that my goal would be to leave the Panthers in a better position than when I came. All my efforts are in that vein.
Over the next few months we will have the opportunities afforded by free agency and the college draft to improve our roster. We also have young players who will get an opportunity. I have great trust in our evaluation process.
Steve had a wonderful career with the Carolina Panthers. I truly wish him and his wife, Angie, all of God's blessings.