On Tuesday General Manager Dave Gettleman appeared highly uncomfortable when asked if Smith could retire as a Carolina Panther, with a ceremonial, one-day contract and press conference.
“That is way above my paygrade,” he said.
Then an antsy swig from his water bottle.
But you’re in charge of contracts…
“That is way above my paygrade,” Gettleman repeated.
Then four foot stamps.
It’s like he was begging for more questions about Cam Newton’s decline, his decision to let Josh Norman walk or his lack of activity last off season.
If Dave Gettleman, or anyone else, is standing in the way of Steve Smith retiring in Black and Blue, they need to step aside for a moment.
The first great Panther. Perhaps the greatest Panther of all time, for now, deserves to live life out in Charlotte as an ambassador to the team that drafted him. To the team he helped put on the map.
The fans deserve to have him in that role as well.
You know what his first words were after his 219th and final NFL game?
“I’m going home,” he told a CBS sideline reporter. “To Charlotte.”
Things didn’t end well between the Panthers, and Smith. Specifically between Gettleman and Smith.
But Gettleman isn’t the first NFL general manager to discard a still-productive star who’s approaching his mid-30’s.
It’s not the first time the release of a star wasn’t handled with exact care.
And Smith isn’t the first star to feel burned by it.
Gettleman should draw up the ceremonial contract, put it on the table, and return to his office to evaluate who he’ll take at No. 8.
He doesn’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, at the press conference.
For now, Steve Smith is the face of this 22-year-old, still-finding-its-way franchise.
He ought to be a part of it once again.