Steve Smith should decide own fate

We’re closing in on the 24-hour mark until the NFL’s trade deadline, and reports continue to fly that the Carolina Panthers could be active.

There were reports that the team had received inquiries about running back DeAngelo Williams. More recently, the buzz is that teams are inquiring about wide receiver Steve Smith.

It’s not clear if the Panthers would part with either player, but I think they should strongly consider it. In the case of Williams, it would be a no-brainer if someone offered something like a third-round draft pick.

Williams doesn’t have much of a role with the current coaching staff and, even if there’s a new staff in place next season, he’s closing in on 30 and carrying some big salary-cap figures in future years.

If the Panthers can unload Williams, they should. Adding a draft pick for next year would help the next general manager.

The case of Smith is much more complicated. Scott Fowler writes the Panthers should not trade Smith, who has spent his entire career in Carolina and is a fan favorite. Fowler says Brandon LaFell is not ready to be a No. 1 receiver and Louis Murphy isn’t ready to be a No. 2.

There’s truth in that. But it’s no longer about the present for the Panthers. At 1-6, their season is over and things are probably going to continue to get uglier.

Even without a general manager and uncertainty about the future of coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers have to start looking ahead to another rebuilding mode, which would be aided by the addition of draft picks.

But, more than anything else, I think whatever happens with Smith should be up to Smith. He and owner Jerry Richardson have a close relationship. If they haven’t already, the need to sit down and talk about what Smith wants.

He’s 33 and he admitted that he contemplated moving on when the Panthers were running John Fox out of town and bringing in Rivera in 2011. Smith is extremely competitive, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he wants to move to a team with a shot at the playoffs.

But Smith also has put down deep roots in Charlotte and might not want to leave. Smith has earned the right to finish his career with the Panthers and have a statue put up outside Bank of America Stadium the moment he retires.

But he’s also earned the right to play on a good team for the first time in a long time. Smith doesn’t have a lot of time to go through another rebuilding phase. If he wants out, grab a draft pick or two and let him out.