Panthers release Steve Smith

Unpublished

Charlotte, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The Carolina Panthers finally made the move that many expected, releasing wide receiver Steve Smith on Thursday.

The 34-year-old veteran hinted Wednesday that his tenure in Charlotte was over with a Twitter message that said "I will always be a Carolina panther No contract can ever change that."

A press release from the Panthers made it official on Thursday.

"Steve Smith has been one of the NFL's finest receivers for over a decade and has been the face of the franchise for a large part of the team's history," said general manager Dave Gettleman in a statement. "This was not an easy decision. 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."

Reports over the past few days had indicated that the Panthers were trying to trade Smith, who is scheduled to earn $7 million this coming season.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection helped the Panthers to a surprise NFC South title last season, but his production had declined.

After posting the sixth and seventh 1,000-yard seasons of his career in 2011 and 2012, Smith totaled 745 yards on 64 catches over 15 regular-season games, with his average of 11.6 yards per game his lowest since 2007.

In 182 games, all with the Panthers, Smith is Carolina's all-time leader with 836 receptions, 12,197 receiving yards and 67 touchdown catches.

"Steve has been an important part of this team since I have been head coach and before my arrival," said coach Ron Rivera. "I have coached against him and have had the benefit of having him on the Panthers. He is a great competitor with Hall of Fame worthy statistics and has made a great contribution to our community. I wish him nothing but the best."

Smith had spent his entire 13-year career with the Panthers, who selected the former Utah wideout in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft. His 182 games played with the franchise is second only to former kicker John Kasay's 219.

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