Once a Carolina Panthers great, the loss of Steve Smith is just now beginning to be patched up…
Monday, Steve Taranto of 247Sports wrote an article discussing the “Biggest what ifs in Carolina Panthers history.”
One of the scenarios that stuck out to me and got the wheels churning a bit was “What if the Carolina Panthers never let go of Steve Smith?” Carolina Panthers history may look a little different if No. 89 was still in a Panthers uniform.
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For those who do not know, Smith was drafted in the third round (No. 74 overall) out of Utah. He spent 2001-2013 with the team and achieved great success while there. A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-team All-Pro, Smith enjoyed tremendous success while with the Carolina Panthers.
His best work came in the 2005 campaign. That year, he came back from a break in his leg, which he suffered in the 2004 opening game against the Green Bay Packers, and put on a show. Snagging 203 passes for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns, he was a machine. His work earned him the 2005 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, a distinction he shared with New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
Always carrying swagger and tremendous confidence in his abilities, seeing Smith in a Baltimore Ravens uniform at the beginning of the 2014 season just did not seem right. As Taranto notes, Dave Gettleman’s decision to move on from Smith was not the best move the latter ever made.
If the Panthers had stuck with Smith, it would be interesting to see what position the Panthers’ receiving corps would be in now, and how the unit would have performed in the final years of Smith’s career. This is particularly true of the 2015 season: Can you imagine if Cam Newton‘s No. 1 target in the Super Bowl was Steve Smith instead of perennial drop machine Ted Ginn Jr.? The Panthers’ all-time greatest player could have made a tremendous difference, particularly in 2014 when the Panthers went 7-8-1 and in 2016 when they went 6-10.
In particular, the point Taranto makes about how the receiving corps might have been different is interesting. Drafting D.J. Moore and trading for Torrey Smith is the first time in quite a while that the Panthers have has legitimate deep targets. Yes, the team had Kelvin Benjamin, but the ending between team and player was, um, unceremonious. Only now is the team beginning to fill the gaping hole left by Smith.
The year after his final season with the Panthers, he performed well for the Ravens. Recording 79 catches for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns, he proved he still had what it took to be successful.
Although he was on the older side by the time he left the Panthers, it would have been fun for Smith to finish his career with Cam Newton. He definitely got the short end of the stick at the end of his time with the Panthers, and he could have brought experience and skill to the position. He could have put a nice bow on his career as a member of the Carolina Panthers in addition to contributing to the offense.
Oh, what could have been.