When the Panthers released Steve Smithback in March of 2014, the controversial decision sent shock waves throughout the Carolinas. The greatest player in franchise history had planned to play one more season with the Panthers before hanging up his cleats and waiting the mandatory five years for Hall of Fame consideration.
One report at the time suggested that general manager Dave Gettleman viewed the ornery veteran as a distraction on a rebuilding roster. There was more to the story.
Left unsaid was that Smith was standing in the way of the organization's plan to turn the offense over to Cam Newton.
In the latest edition of NFL Network's *A Football Life *which airs this Friday 9 p.m. ET, Smith acknowledged an uneasy relationship with the young quarterback.
"We bumped heads for the obvious reason. He's the first overall pick and he was a star where he was," Smith explained, via Blackandbluereview.com. "I was 31 years old. I had three kids. So we were two people in two different phases of their life."
Although a revenge-minded Smith unloaded on Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera after leading a Ravens defeat of the Panthers in October of 2014, Newton avoided the shrapnel.
Both players have tight-lipped on their three years together in Charlotte. Former Panthers tackle Jordan Gross has shed light on their tenuous connection, however.
"That was a tough dynamic. It frustrated Steve being with such a young quarterback who maybe didn't get all the terminology down right away, who would mess up his reads on a hot route, things like that. Steve had no patience for that," Gross said.
"Honestly, I feel like that hurt Cam's development a little bit because Steve was such an in-your-face character. He wanted to win now. Steve wasn't a rookie. Steve was getting into double-digit seasons, and he didn't want to wait to win for this young quarterback to develop.
"I think the organization felt like for Cam to flourish, they needed Steve to step down."
Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl echoed that sentiment, conceding that as difficult as the decision might have been for Gettleman and Rivera, the change was "probably good for everybody."
That statement certainly rings true.
Newton went on to assume control of the offense, running away with the 2015 MVP award while leading the Panthers into Super Bowl 50 as the sport's preeminent dual-threat quarterback.
Three years after his release, Smith trails only the legendary Jerry Rice as the greatest "old" receiver in NFL history. Once he retires after the 2016 season, he will be a shoo-into join Rice in Canton.