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Panthers should guard investment in Newton by keeping Smith

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith told Pro Football Weekly that he's never demanded a trade and that he's unsure if he will be dealt when it's allowed. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, on draft weekend, declined to divulge the nature of any conversations he had with Smith, other than Smith wants the Panthers to be competitive and that Smith wants to be in a competitive situation.

While it's way too soon to tell if the Panthers will be competitive a year after winning just two games, I'd be surprised if Smith ends up any place else.

Carolina just invested the first overall draft pick on quarterback Cam Newton. Other than Smith, Carolina doesn't have any other wide receivers to help Newton along. Sure, Sam Bradford was in that scenario last season with the Rams and somehow generated enough offense for St. Louis to win seven games, but don't you think he wishes he had a receiver like Smith on his team?

At least for now, Newton does.

Let's also not forget that other than linebacker Jon Beason, Smith is Carolina's best player. He's coming off a bad season -- as is just about everyone with the Panthers -- but Smith can still deal. Smith still commands double teams and with him taking attention off the running game and tight end Jeremy Shockey, Newton could stand a better chance. All the way around, Smith, who has been with the Panthers since 2001, probably is more valuable to Carolina than anywhere else. He's had five seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards and is one of the most feared receivers in the NFL.

To that point, Carolina would be doing itself a disservice if it didn't explore trading Smith, who turns 32 on Thursday and still has two years left on his contract. Unless some team feels Smith is the missing piece, he probably wouldn't fetch the Panthers the type of compensation they could use to replace him, meaning a first- or second-round pick -- or a similar player of his ilk. The Raiders only received a fourth-round pick for Randy Moss from New England in 2007 when Moss was 30 and Moss, as we saw, still had plenty of game left.

Smith might welcome a change of scenery and the chance to catch passes from a veteran quarterback who won't have to learn a new system or endure growing pains. Those types of situations typically come with a No. 1 receiver in house. Smith probably wouldn't have a problem not being the main receiving threat. He might even welcome it.

There was a report that the Chargers, who have Vincent Jackson as their prime wide receiver, are keeping tabs on any developments with Smith. A lot of other teams probably are, too. Some might be waiting to see if Carolina releases Smith, but finding someone to replace Smith would have to be in order.

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Who might that be? Depending on the rules once the lockout ends, it could be free agents like Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards. However, if the rules restrict their availability, the pool could be reduced to veterans like Terrell Owens and Moss. Like Smith, they're at the tail end of their careers and probably are hoping to be in competitive situations. Carolina drafted Hawaii wide receiver Kealoha Pilares in the fifth round but not to replace Smith. Wideouts taken that late in the draft typically are pegged more for special teams as the entry onto the field than as difference makers.

Smith is a difference maker, and the Panthers are very light on those.

New coaches tend to try and clean a few vets out to bring in their own guys, but moving out someone as good as Smith to make that point after drafting a quarterback No. 1 overall could be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. That's why, when everything shakes out, Smith probably still be wearing No. 89 for Carolina.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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