CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Steve Smith era in Carolina is over.
The Panthers released their all-time leading receiver on Thursday after 13 seasons. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said it “was not an easy decision” in a press release.
“Steve has been one of the NFL’s finest receivers for over a decade and has been the face of the franchise for a large part of the team’s history,” Gettleman said. “As a team, we made a step forward last year; however we are also a team in transition, which is a part of the NFL.”
Smith said on radio Thursday he’s not angry about the decision.
“It’s devastating to hear that you are getting fired, but it’s also exciting because that frees me up to be pursued by other teams,” Smith told Taylor Zarzour of SiriusXM’s Bleacher Report Radio.” I have never become a free agent before so I will get a few free dinners out of it at some nice expensive restaurants. I want to enjoy the experience that, frankly, I will never experience again.”
Smith reiterated he wants to play in the NFL and that being released “awoke a sleeping giant” inside of him.
The decision comes one day after Smith’s agent, Derrick Fox, told The Associated Press that the 13-year NFL veteran “is not going to play for the Panthers next year, I know that.”
Fox said the Panthers never asked Smith, who turns 35 in May, to restructure his current contract. The Panthers were unable to trade Smith, who was set to cost $7 million under this year’s salary cap.
The Panthers still owe Smith $3 million this season.
The decision has not been a popular one among Carolina fans. Gettleman addressed that in his press release.
“When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way,” Gettleman said. “To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it’s the right one.”
“As I’ve stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers. Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view. Sometimes it may appear that short term interests will suffer, and I can assure you we have no interest in taking a step back from our 2013 accomplishments.”
The Panthers also lost wide receivers Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. to free agency on Thursday.