Trading block on horizon for Steve Smith?

NEW ORLEANS -- Let’s make it very clear that Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith is not on the official trading block right now. But, the more I see and hear, the more I think that’s only because there isn’t an official trading block right now.

The NFL players are locked out and, as long as they are, there can be no trades or roster moves. But after spending lots of time around Carolina officials at the NFL owners meeting, it’s obvious there’s a real chance Smith could be gone from the only team he’s ever played for as soon as the lockout ends.

The Panthers aren’t going to just give away perhaps the best player in franchise history. But it sure seems like they’d be willing to listen to trade offers as coach Ron Rivera begins a new regime and Smith’s own wishes might only help facilitate a trade.

As Rivera met with the media Tuesday morning, he didn’t offer any specifics on Smith staying or going. The coach and the player met before the lockout to get acquainted and, even before that meeting, the player was told by team officials that he needed to ponder his future and decide if he would be happy staying in Carolina.

“The one thing was, he expressed his opinions and feelings on things,’’ Rivera said. “I told him quite frankly that the one thing we have to do is go through the process.

“I told Steve that we’ve got to go through this process and we’ll go from there. We’ll have a decision. But we’ll go through the process first."

At the moment, Smith can’t talk to team officials and they can’t talk to him. As soon as the lockout is over, though, the rules change and you get the feeling that when that time comes Smith and the Panthers quickly could be talking to other teams. Heck, Rivera wouldn't even touch the question when asked if the Panthers had any trade talks with other teams about Smith before the lockout started.

“I don’t want to talk about that,’’ Rivera said. “That’s something we’ll go through if it happens.’’