Across 13 seasons with the Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith Sr. racked up a franchise-record 12,197 receiving yards, putting himself in the discussion for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When you consider that the Smith joined the Panthers in their seventh year of existence, he left the organization as the most accomplished player in the history of the franchise.
And perhaps he still is, though Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, certainly has quite the case himself.
Newton and Smith were teammates for three seasons, with Smith's final three campaigns with the Panthers (2011, 2012 & 2013) coinciding with the first three for Newton. Smith had over 3,300 yards in three seasons with Newton, so he was hardly unproductive on the field with the 2011 No. 1 overall pick. Though Smith did regress to 745 receiving yards in his final season with the team, many felt that his release following the 2013 season had more to do with assuring that everyone knew that the Panthers were Cam's team, not anyone else's,
Smith's exit left a frosty relationship with the organization, and Newton himself. He recently explained why he and Newton never seemed to hit it off on a personal level.
"People don't want to hear this, but I think I was 33 years old," Smith told The Ringer's Kyle Brandt. "When you're 33 years old - or 10 years older than your teammate - there's gonna be a disconnect because we're obviously looking at things totally different. I had three children at the time, he had zero. I was on the downward spiral for my career, he was just starting his career. So, I think there's obvious things, but people want to put us against each other like 'Oh, we didn't get along because of this.' It had nothing to do with not getting along, but it's like that Instagram picture where everyone says 'What color is this dress?' And depending on how you see things, you can argue over the color, and people do that.
"So, it's just, it was a 10-year age gap, and I was at a different place. I guess it's more of a slight on me. What does a 33-year-old man with three kids have in common with a 23-year-old young man? I hope they are not intellectually and maturity-wise on the same level, right? And that's not a knock on anybody, I'm just trying to explain it in a way that people get it without people trying to assume that "Oh, Steve hates him." Listen, when I wake up in the morning, I don't go 'Oh, what did Cam Newton do or not do?' I look at football the same way everybody else does - I try to let the game draw it's own conclusions."
Following his release, Smith famously told WFNZ that there would be "blood and guts everywhere" if he ever got the chance to face the Panthers as an opponent. He made good on that promise in Week 4 of the 2019 season, when, as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, he caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-10 win over the Panthers. When his career concluded after the 2016 season, Smith opted to retire as a member of the Ravens, rather than the Panthers, the team he spent more than 80 percent of his career as a member of.
Time perhaps hasn't healed all wounds with the Panthers organization, but you do get the sense that he is genuine in saying that he doesn't root against Newton. Perhaps he doesn't root for him either, but it seems fair to say he's agnostic on his former teammate. As far as what type of presence Smith thinks the New England Patriots have gotten in Newton, he admitted that he's probably not the best judge.
"I also don't know the Cam Newton that's playing for the New England Patriots because I haven't been around him in a long period of time at 31 years old (Newton's current age) to really say 'Man, this is why I believe he's playing well.' Our paths haven't crossed in the business world."