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Panthers cut Steve Smith, looking at Hakeem Nicks

The Steve Smith era with the Carolina Panthers is over after 13 seasons.

The Panthers officially announced Smith's release Thursday morning. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport had reported earlier the Panthers were set to release Smith today, and Bill Voth of SportsXchange first reported the news.

As we discussed on the most recent episode of the "Around The League Podcast," the Panthers' front office has handled Smith's departure about as clumsily and thickheaded as possible. The long-time face of the franchise has been kept out of the process and was denigrated in the media Wednesday.

"This was not an easy decision," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement. "As a team, we made a step forward last year; however we are also a team in transition, which is a part of the NFL."

Gettleman added: "When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way. To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it's the right one."

The Panthers tried to trade the 35-year-old receiver, but were -- not surprisingly -- unable to come up with a deal.

This was a football move more than a money move, as cutting Smith still will leave a huge salary-cap hit. The veteran receiver's play drastically fell off in 2013, and Gettleman appears to just want to move on.

The Panthers will target Hakeem Nicks to replace Smith, Rapoport reported. Nicks told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he plans to visit the Colts on Friday, and Rapoport added Carolina and the Chargers are in the mix. The athletic but underperforming Nicks has voiced his desire for a multiyear contract. Gettleman has first-hand knowledge of Nicks from the general manager's time in the New York Giants' front office. Therefore, the length and size of a potential contract could speak volumes of how he views Nicks' future.

The Panthers continue to express interest in bringing back receiver Brandon LaFell, who visited the New England Patriots on Wednesday but left without a deal. LaFell is meeting with the Panthers on Thursday, Rapoport reported.

Carolina also is "lurking" on James Jones, Rapoport reported.

Nicks and Jones would be clear upgrades to the Panthers' receivers corps -- of course, that is easy to say considering the top receivers on the roster today are Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt.

Smith, on the other hand, will test his veteran wears in another market, as Rapoport reported he will visit the Baltimore Ravens on Friday.

"The Wrath of 89" could be coming to a stadium near you in 2014.

*The latest "Around The League Podcast" recaps the wild start of free agency. *

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