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Does Steve Smith make sense for Buccaneers?
Posted Feb 25, 2011 by Ira Kaufman
Updated Feb 25, 2011 at 02:22 PM
By IRA KAUFMAN
TAMPA—It appears Steve Smith’s dynamic career with the Panthers has run its course.
Could he recapture his Pro Bowl form in pewter?
The veteran wide receiver has seen his production plunge the past few years as a succession of Carolina quarterbacks struggled. The Panthers threw only nine touchdown passes last season and posted an NFL-low passer rating of 57.0 as Carolina went 2-14 in John Fox’s final year on the sidelines.
New head coach Ron Rivera sounds lukewarm about Smith’s future in Charlotte and the Panthers have been shedding veterans and salary in anticipation of a work stoppage. Smith, who turns 32 in May, is under contract through 2012 and his combined base salary for the next two seasons is $14.75 million.
The Bucs will be well under any salary cap once a new labor agreement is forged and Smith could be rejuvenated as a Buccaneer, with rapidly developing Josh Freeman under center. If motivated, Smith, a four-time Pro Bowl pick who has registered five 1,000-yard seasons, could combine with tight end Kellen Winslow and rookie sensation Mike Williams to give Freeman some dangerous targets as Tampa Bay looks to improve on a 10-6 season by winning the NFC South.
The Panthers won’t get a first-round pick for Smith at this stage of his career and Atlanta could be interested in pairing him up with Roddy White. All trades for players will be on hold past March 3 until a new CBA is hammered out and Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik is not inclined to give up premium draft picks—but Smith would be an intriguing addition.
He comes with some baggage, but he is also hungry to win and Smith still has the speed and moves that stamped him as one of the league’s premier deep threats until quarterback Jake Delhomme self-destructed in Charlotte.
If the Bucs can pry Smith loose for a third-round draft choice, Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris will have to consider their options. Arrelious Benn is coming off a torn ACL and the Bucs lack proven wide receivers beyond Williams.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if Smith, an annual Buc-killer, was reborn in Tampa?