"Steve's had a great career," Gettleman said, "and the bottom line is, it's part of the evaluation process."
Now Smith has responded, explaining that Gettleman and Rivera's comments were "discouraging" and took him "by surprise."
"(I) would have wished that I would have been afforded the opportunity to be given a heads up by our GM and also with coach Rivera," Smith told WBT-AM in Charlotte. "When I did my exit meeting, no one spoke to me about it in that manner, so the unfortunate part of it is I had to hear second hand."
Smith also had an issue with the way in which Gettleman described his career.
"We have to read into things and we try not to, but when we speak of an individual's career in the past tense, I think ultimately it would suggest that a team is moving on, and that's all I can do," the wide receiver said. "No one has still reached out to me and told me anything."
Smith was asked if he could imagine himself playing elsewhere.
"I'm just taking it one day at time. I don't really know what's going on, to be honest," he said. " ... Until a couple days ago, I didn't know my football career was in jeopardy, so it's a lot that I have to process."
Smith's reaction is understandable, but there's also a bottom line that can't be ignored: Smith will turn 35 this spring and is coming off a season in which his production dipped significantly. If the Panthers are no longer sold on him as a legit No. 1 wide receiver -- or are unsure if he's worth the $7 million he's due in 2014 -- there's plenty of logic to a true "evaluation."
That said, the communication here could have and should have been better. You safely can assume a sitdown between the two sides is near.