Chargers reportedly interested in Panthers' WR Smith

The Sports Xchange/

Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith cleared out his locker and packed his belongings from the Carolina Panthers' team facility last month.

Was it the first step in the next phase of his career? He has two years remaining on his current contract and is owed $7 million for 2011 and $7.75 million for '12.

Smith, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, wants to be traded and the Los Angeles native prefers a California landing spot. The paper, citing sources close to the situation, indicates the Chargers are extremely interested in acquiring Smith if he becomes available at the conclusion of the NFL lockout. At present, player movement is not allowed because the league is, technically, closed for official business.

Coach Ron Rivera, entering his first season as a head coach, has maintained that Smith is part of the team's future in Carolina.

"Steve's a Carolina Panther. That's a situation where as we go further on we'll address. We'll talk and he knows how I feel about things. My biggest thing is let us put it all together and see how it works, see if it's something that can work for all of us. That's probably the most important thing. But we have to do what's best for the Carolina Panthers," Rivera said in February.

Smith, 32, has played 10 NFL seasons, all with the Panthers, and has 52 touchdowns. But he began last season with a broken arm that kept him out of the preseason and never found a groove amidst a season-long quarterback issue in 2010. The Panthers went 2-14, leaning on rookie Jimmy Clausen after veterans Matt Moore and street free agent Brian St. Pierre went down with injuries.

In December, Smith said Clausen should apologize to the veterans in the huddle and said he had a lot to learn. Clausen had issued an apology to defensive captain Jon Beason for a poor peformance in a 31-10 loss to the Saints.

"I'm the last guy to tell anybody to be apologizing, but if you're going to apologize, you know, you should apologize to the people in the huddle with you," Smith said. "But he has a lot to learn. He ain't in Notre Dame anymore, that's for sure."

The Panthers used the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Whether Newton, a junior who won the Heisman Trophy and national championship in his lone season as a starter, can contribute immediately is open to debate. The current lockout, also prohibiting rookies from hands-on learning at the team facility, would seem to favor Clausen returning as the team's starter with Newton learning for most or all of his rookie season.

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