The Carolina Panthers did not release wide receiver Steve Smith on Tuesday, but their chances of trading the best player in franchise history appeared dim as the dust was settling on the first day of free agency.
But Wednesday could see the inevitable: Unable to trade Smith and his $7 million salary, the Panthers would have to release him.
[Be sure to check out Shutdown Corner's NFL free-agent rankings. Click here for the list of offensive players, and click here for the list of defensive and special teams players]
Although the trade market might be wintry because of Smith's cumbersome salary, he should have some serious suitors. But no team might be more interested and aggressive to land Smith than the Baltimore Ravens.
League sources have told the Shutdown Corner that GM Ozzie Newsome has set his sights on Smith. Although the Ravens don't appear to be interested in making a trade with the Panthers to guarantee getting him (and taking on that salary), they certainly would try to move quickly to add him to the roster and give the Ravens another weapon in a passing attack that hit bottom a few times last season.
But adding Smith to an offense with deep threat Torrey Smith, seam weapon Dennis Pitta and quarterback Joe Flacco would be a positive development. Smith doesn't fit the mold of the typical receiver that new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has featured in his offenses in recent years, but there's no question they'd find a way to use him best. Following the trade of Anquan Boldin prior to last season, the Ravens' passing game lacked a sure-handed, clutch, tough receiver — and Smith would fill that bill, even as he is set to turn 35 in May.
Smith is believed to have the Ravens in a list of teams he would consider signing with if he's cut. Proximity is a factor for Smith, who preferably would want to stay close to his home outside of Charlotte. League sources believe Smith would be seeking a two- or three-year deal.
Smith also might take into consideration teams that face the Panthers, which means you can't rule out a division foe such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, although the Ravens also are set to face the Panthers in 2014. Other teams that could be potential landing spots for Smith include the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers.
Because there is no offset language in his contract, the Panthers would have to pay Smith $3 million of his salary. Smith then could "double dip" with the next contract he signs and make out pretty well.
Wednesday could mark the end of an era for Smith in Carolina. But it could be the start of another phase of his career in Baltimore, the way things are looking late Tuesday night.
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