Panthers made football, cap move on Smith

The Carolina Panthers, who have been pretty quiet throughout free agency, just made their biggest move of the offseason.

The team announced Tuesday morning that it has agreed to terms with receiver Steve Smith on a three-year contract extension.

The move makes sense on a bunch of different levels.

Smith will turn 33 in May, but he showed no signs of slowing down last season. In fact, he seemed energized by the arrival of quarterback Cam Newton. Smith caught 79 passes for 1,394 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and that easily was his best season since 2008. Smith always has taken good care of himself, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays through the entire contract, which now runs through 2015.

More importantly, the move should help Carolina’s salary-cap situation in the short term. The Panthers were only about $440,000 under the cap before this move. We don’t know the details of Smith’s contract yet, but it’s a certainty the Panthers restructured the deal to make it more cap friendly for 2012.

Smith had been scheduled to count $10.7 million against this year’s cap. But it’s likely the Panthers trimmed several million off that number by replacing part of Smith’s base salary for this year with a signing bonus that will be pro-rated over the life of the contract.