The Carolina Panthers just made a huge mistake. According to recent reports, Steve Smith will not be returning to the team for the 2014 season after a month of discussion and contract disputes. If that wasn’t a big enough setback for the Panthers’ already almost nonexistent passing game, Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell are also headed into free agency. Both LaFell and Ginn Jr. were adequate receivers last season, and while the Panthers might want to re-sign them, doing so is going to cost them precious cap space.
Losing Ginn Jr., who posted a reasonable five touchdowns and 556 receiving yards last year, or LaFell (who was a solid second receiver) is something that the Panthers could manage with some solid support receivers coming up in the NFL Draft. However, without Smith, Cam Newton now has no weapons at his disposal. There is no doubt that there were concerns with Smith’s age as he has lost a step since the days of his youth, but he could still get down field and make big plays — a valuable asset that is going to be hard to replace.
Smith leaving is one part of a two-part problem the Panthers now have to deal with. Losing Smith is a big blow, something that GM Dave Gettleman thinks he can handle, but with Ginn Jr. and LaFell also going to free agency, the Panthers have put themselves in a tough position. Even their fourth wideout Domenik Hixon is an unrestricted free agent. The Panthers are losing more players than they can keep and need to make a big move in free agency (along with another key addition in the draft) in order to make up for their losses. Losing LaFell and Ginn Jr. would be a large setback, but losing Smith is the largest of them all. For all of his talent, Newton is quickly running out of options. Panther fans better hope Gettleman has at least one more trick up his sleeve.