Reporting Colin Hoggard
In the past twelve months, the Panthers have fired their long time GM, traded a defensive leader, and according to at least one report are well on their way to conducting a search for their new head coach. Excluding owner Jerry Richardson, the Panthers have been in the process of overhauling the heads of all facets of the team, except one.
With the Panthers again struggling to a 1-3 start and with coaches, players and fans alike trying to determine what’s wrong, the time is right for a dramatic change. The team must get worse to get better and they need to do it by trading Steve Smith. Make no mistake, the talent level will decrease when he’s traded. Smith’s a sure fire Hall of Famer. He’s won the receiving triple crown, had the most iconic reception in franchise history, and he’s also played big on the biggest stage, recording 10 touchdowns in 7 playoff games. His 1.33 TDs per playoff game is unmatched by any receiver in NFL history not named Larry Fitzgerald. During the decade of the aughts, no wide receiver with better numbers than Smith endured spottier quarterback play. He had over 8,000 yards and 54 touchdowns by 2010 and that’s the problem.
Smith’s strong personality, his accomplishments, and accolades came before Cam Newton arrived in Carolina and that makes it impossible for Cam to be the undisputed leader on offense. Steve looms larger than any other personality on the team. Bigger than his head coach, his offensive coordinator and bigger than his quarterback. While Cam may be the face, Steve is the icon, the stalwart, the elder statesman.
Cam needs the pressure of all of his teammates depending on him. He needs to be the sun. How will Cam react to this, only time will tell, but the organization cannot re-sign Cam Newton to franchise quarterback money without knowing that he can handle that responsibility. Steve’s 34 years old and won’t be around for the better part of that nine figure contract, but by the time he leaves the ink will be dry and the questions will linger.
Trading Smith will also net the Panthers an asset that could help the team reach their ultimate goal. In all likelihood, Smith won’t be around to see it regardless, which would mean watching an asset decrease from a third round pick to nothing for the sake of nostalgia, an expensive price to pay when you consider the third round, in recent years, has produced weapons such as T.Y. Hilton, Leonard Hankerson, and Jimmy Graham.
The largest question looming over the Panthers, “Can Cam Be the Guy?” must be answered before they commit another cent to him. He must work harder than he’s ever worked before, he must lead like he’s never led before and he must take total ownership over the offense. The answers will become clear. Not immediately in wins and losses, but in the way he responds to becoming the Captain and the way his teammates respond to him. Steve Smith will forever be remembered as one of the greatest Panthers, but its time to find out if Cam can be as well and the only way to do that is to say goodbye to 89.