4:23pm: According to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun (Twitter link), the Panthers designated Smith as a post-June 1 cut, which will reduce the dead money on the team’s 2014 books, stretching some of that hit into 2015.
10:27am: The Panthers have officially released Smith, the team announced today (Twitter link).
9:55am: Before the Panthers decided to cut Smith, the receiver presented the team with five preferred trade destinations, a source tells Joseph Person. Those clubs were the Cowboys, Patriots, Ravens, Bucs, and Chargers.
7:12am: Unable to find a trade partner for Steve Smith, the Panthers will release the veteran wide receiver, according to Bill Voth of the SportsXchange (via Twitter). Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer confirms (via Twitter) that the move is expected to come later today. According to Person (via Twitter), Hakeem Nicks will be the club’s top target as they consider replacements for the longtime Panther.
Smith’s agent, Derek Fox, had suggested yesterday that his client’s time in Carolina was almost certainly over, noting that the club would likely release the wide receiver if he couldn’t be traded. When the move becomes official, Smith is expected to draw serious interest from the Ravens, and a report this week indicated that interest should be mutual. ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter) calls Baltimore the early frontrunner in the upcoming Smith sweepstakes, though we heard the Buccaneers and Raiders mentioned yesterday as likely suitors as well.
Assuming the Panthers don’t designate Smith as a post-June 1 cut, his cap number will be higher after he’s cut ($9MM) than it would’ve been if he remained on the roster ($7MM). As Person wrote yesterday, GM Dave Gettleman doesn’t view the move as a financial necessity, but thinks the team needs to part ways with the veteran receiver to let younger leaders like Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly take control of the locker room.
Smith, who turns 35 in May, is Carolina’s all-time leading receiver with 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns receiving. He’s also is 19th all-time in NFL history in yards receiving and 25th in receptions.