Shortly before the Panthers decided to part ways with wide receiver Steve Smith, the Charlotte Observer reported that general manager Dave Gettleman viewed the 35-year-old fan favorite as a distraction, and was ready to hand over the locker room to emerging stars Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly.
But Smith's exodus was about more than his personality. On Tuesday, Gettleman called it a football decision, and a day later, coach Ron Rivera agreed. According Rivera, Smith, who signed with the Ravens two weeks ago, isn't the player he once was.
"He doesn't have the top-end speed like he used to, but he still has good speed," Rivera said Wednesday at at the annual league meetings, via the Observer. "Steve will still find ways to make plays. And as far as football decisions go, we have to move on eventually. This was an opportunity to do it."
Meanwhile, John Harbaugh, Smith's new coach in Baltimore, is happy to have the veteran playmaker on his roster.
"Steve is going to be a leader," Harbaugh said during the league meetings. "I love where he's at. What he was telling me about his plans for enhancing our team and our organization were just exactly the things that I wanted to hear and expected to hear.
"He's got a plan. He understands our culture to a degree and I think he sees where he fits in as a veteran coming into the program, as opposed to the guy that's been there all the years. I'm pretty excited about it."
As for the contention that Smith may have lost a step, Harbaugh sounded unconcerned.
"I saw him catch the deep balls. So when he had a chance, when he was running a (go) route or a (post) route, and he was even with the defender, he was leaving (him) still," Harbaugh said. "He was able to accelerate and go make the catch. If he does it, that means he can still do it. And that's all we really needed to see."