INDIANAPOLIS – Steve Smith was 34 last season, and his play made it seem like the end might be getting close.
Carolina's top receiver had 745 yards and his yards-per-catch average plummeted to 11.6, down 4.5 yards from 2012. He is due $4 million in base salary for the Panthers, who have repeatedly said this offseason they are "cap challenged."
All of that has led to the Panthers being noncommittal when it comes to Smith's future with the team in 2014 and beyond. Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he was "not quite sure" when asked if there was a scenario in which Smith wouldn't be back.
"It's all about the evaluations," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "We have got to look through everything.
"Steve is part of who we are. We'll go from there."
When asked about impending free agents Jordan Gross and Greg Hardy, Rivera expressed a lot of probably unrealistic optimism that both would return, so he wasn't lukewarm about other players returning.
The Panthers might be hopeful that Smith will restructure his deal. It's hard to believe the Panthers would get rid of Smith considering how few receiving weapons they have for Cam Newton. Smith might be aging, but he's still the best they have.
"Again, we're going through the process. We have to see," Rivera said. "He's a veteran guy that has played a lot of games for us."
Smith has been with the Panthers since 2001. It's hard to imagine him playing anywhere else. It's especially hard to see the Panthers moving on considering they're struggling to find a reliable No. 2 receiver, much less someone who can be Smith's successor as their top option. But the Panthers are apparently considering all their options.
"We're going through the whole process," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. "Steve's had a great career. He really has. None of us are here forever."
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