The franchise's all-time leading receiver declined to comment on his status to ESPN.com and other media during a Wednesday retirement news conference for left tackle Jordan Gross. But in a Tuesday interview with WBT radio, Smith said he was surprised by the comments of general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera at the NFL combine.
"Steve's had a great career," Gettleman told reporters at the combine last Thursday. "None of us are here forever. He's part of the evaluation."
Smith told WBT he would have liked that kind of heads-up at his exit meeting after the season. As far as he was concerned, he was under contract and next season was not in question.
"We have to read into things and we try not to, but when you speak of an individual's career in the past tense it would ultimately suggest that a team is moving on,'' Smith said. "No one has still reached out to me and told me anything.
"My agent has contacted the team and is just trying to find out what's going on. To be honest, I have no idea what my future holds.''
Smith said it was "discouraging'' to hear Gettleman's and Rivera's comments.
"It took me by surprise,'' he said. "I was shocked and wish I wouldn't have heard it the way I heard it and in the way I heard it. As they say, that's part of the business. I don't know what to think about it.
"I'll put it like this. If I ... did that the reverse way, I think it would have been very unprofessional on my end and a distraction. I wish the individuals would have had that conversation with me first and privately.''
Rivera said Wednesday the Panthers still are evaluating how Smith fits into their 2014 plans. He said people need to be patient and let the process play out, not read too much into things.
But he remained vague and would not say Smith will be with the team in 2014 when directly asked.
"A lot of it has to be with what our situation and circumstances are going to be,'' he said. "As we go forward, just what the role is going to be, we'll see.''
Rivera spoke often of Smith's role.
"Well, we've got a lot to go through,'' he said. "A lot of things have changed. These [Gross' retirement] are the sort of things that are disruptive. We've got free agency coming up that we've got to look at as well, so there's a lot of things that are going to be there that are going to really make some things tough for us.
"How big a role he has for us is to be determined. We've got a lot of things to decide.''
Smith, 34, has been Carolina's No. 1 receiver for most of his 13 seasons in the league. A third-round pick out of Utah in 2001, Smith will turn 35 in May. He has three years left on his contract, carrying a cap number of $7 million for 2014.
The team has between June 1 and June 30 to exercise a 2016 option that carries a $1.5 million bonus. Carolina will have to execute a $3 million non-exercise fee if Smith is on the roster on July 1. Smith has not been asked to renegotiate his deal for a smaller cap hit.
Asked if the vagueness about Smith's status had to do with the salary cap, Rivera said: "There's a lot of things we're looking at, a lot of things we have to put into play to determine just how big of a role [he plays]. We've got to create space, and we know that. We're in a tough position right now, and they're working on it.''
The Panthers are about $28 million under the salary cap after renegotiating the contracts of several players over the past week. They have 21 unrestricted free agents, however, including defensive end Greg Hardy, a key piece of the league's No. 2 ranked defense in 2013.
They also would like to negotiate a long-term deal for quarterback Cam Newton at some point over the next year.
Smith has been Newton's top target for most of the past three years. He caught 64 passes for 745 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.
"I don't know what's going on, to be honest,'' Smith said. "I'm saying this as sincerely as I can.''