Longtime Carolina Panther Steve Smith torched his former team on Sunday with 139 yards receiving and a couple of touchdowns in Baltimore’s 38-10 win. Yesterday, on a Charlotte sports talk show, Smith put the wood to the Panthers again–taunting general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera, and former teammates with caustic and sarcastic quips.
This was classic Steve Smith just being Steve Smith. And of course, it was the all-time receiving yardage leader who initiated the call to the show.
There was certainly a ring of truth to what he said. The Panthers offense sputters this season for a number of reasons, but a weak outside receiving corps appears perhaps chief among them. Smith had been the primary outside weapon for Carolina for 13 years, and a case could be made for calling him the best Panthers player ever. He certainly has been the most explosive and most exciting, and he has the most significant touchdown in franchise history on a long catch and run in St. Louis to win a playoff game that led to a Super Bowl run.
But last offseason new General Manager Gettleman made the decision in March to jettison Smith. It was a shocking and controversial determination at the time, and Sunday’s rout at the hands of Smith and his new team will only add to the debate. Smith was more than happy to reignite the smoldering ashes on WFNZ.
Smith claimed Gettleman released him because, according to the GM, Smith was “just a shadow of his former self”and accused Smith of “being jealous of Cam Newton” and of being a “nuisance and a distraction.” It appeared that Smith called in to set the record straight as well as rubbing some salt in, denying reports from the NFL Network that aired last week indicating Smith had refused a pay cut and demanded a trade.
He also chided Gettleman for making a “personal” decision and “not having the cojones” to tell him or his agent about the move to drop him from the roster, adding that he had to find out on radio. Ron Rivera was not off limits in the interview either, as Smith accused Rivera of only congratulating him postgame on the field as a PR stunt.
On the distraction and nuisance charge, Smith took out after Greg Hardy and some other Panthers players, saying, “I didn’t hit my wife…. I didn’t get arrested for DUIs…. I didn’t fall off no motorcycles.” The point was well made, given that Smith is known as a good family man, very generous, and a good citizen off the field.
And to be sure, from purely a football and/or salary cap standpoint, it is hard to justify letting Smith go. Gettleman seemed intent on building the team without a real focus on the outside passing game. In the offseason, he let go all of his current wide outs, including speedster Ted Ginn. Gettleman wants a team that can keep defenders off Cam Newton, thus his emphasis has been on the offensive line. Perhaps a little emphasis on having receivers that can get open quicker would have been helpful. Newton holds the ball longer than any quarterback in the league now, and just cannot find any separation, thus pass rushers hit him a lot.
Moreover, the Panthers offense looks stale and not very threatening. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin is potentially a big time receiver, but his main weapon is his size and strength, and not his speed. In other words, a case can be made that Gettleman and the front office have done a poor job of assembling the right pieces, at least on offense. Newton looks slower and produces far fewer explosive plays on land or by air than he did as a rookie. Those figures have gone down every single season.
It’s certainly good to have a lot of size and strength on an NFL roster. But speed is necessary too. The NFL is a league of explosive passing plays, yet the Panthers cannot ignite any of that with their current roster. The man who has done that for more than a decade reminded them of that–on Sunday–and again on Wednesday. Steve Smith was just being Steve Smith.