|Fan-favorite Smith is "close" to signing a new deal. (Getty Images)|
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith had a resurgent year in 2011 with rookie Cam Newton under center, posting 1,394 receiving yards, good for fifth in the NFL. And the Panthers rewarded him for that on Tuesday, as the team announced a three-year extension for the wide receiver.
The news was first reported by Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network.
It's crazy to think how quickly things turned around for Smith: 2010 was an absolutely miserable season for the long-time Panther. He caught 46 passes for 554 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games and following the season, looked like a lock to get shipped out as the Panthers prepared to rebuild.
Somehow, Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney convinced him to hang around and see what he thought of Newton as a rookie quarterback, and Smith ended up having the second- or third-best season of his impressive career.
And he did at the age of 32, on a squad that was supposed to be blowing things up and starting over.
There's certainly some concern about Smith aging quickly; his speed is his biggest asset after all. But Smith, who posted the best yards per catch rate of his career in 2011, didn't appear to be losing anything at all last year. If he can produce at a similar rate through the end of this extension, it will end up looking like a smart deal.
The new contract will not only take Smith through the end of his career (allowing him to retire having only played for one team), but it will also likely reduce the current Panthers salary cap, which can currently best be described as "constrained."
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