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Carolina Panthers trying to trade Steve Smith, could end up releasing him

It might be the end of an era for the best player in Carolina Panthers history.

Shutdown Corner can confirm the report of NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that the Panthers are trying to trade wide receiver Steve Smith, the franchise leader in receiving yards and playoff touchdowns, who has played with the team since it made him a third-round pick in 2001.

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Smith is due to make $7 million next season on a contract he signed (under former GM Marty Hurney) believing it would keep him a Panther for life. That isn't likely now.

The Panthers likely will release Smith if they can't trade him. Hurney has been replaced by Dave Gettleman, who was wishy washy at the scouting combine about Smith's future, as was head coach Ron Rivera. Smith has said he is not ready to stop playing.

At 34, Smith is coming off a season in which he caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns. For his career, he ranks 25th in NFL history with 836 catches and 19th all-time with 12,197 receiving yards. His entire career has been with the Panthers.

On Monday, the Panthers removed the sale of Smith's jersey from their website.

In what might have been his final game as a Panther, Smith returned early from a strained PCL injury a few weeks earlier to score a first-half touchdown and gain 74 yards in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

If Smith were to be released, keep in mind the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots as possible landing spots. Smith is close with Chargers head coach Mike McCoy and WR coach Fred Graves, and the Patriots are famous for reviving veterans' careers. Smith also might not pass on the chance to play within the division with a chance at retribution twice per season, if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints came calling.

Smith has been upset with the lack of communication between the Panthers' front office and his agent. He has not heard what the team's plans for him have been, only getting news of his future through media reports.

Although Smith and Gettleman met last week to "clear the air," according to people familiar with the meeting, little was accomplished in that brief session.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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