CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- He's only 5-foot-9, went to junior
college, was a third-round draft pick and had trouble controlling
Steve Smith has overcome it all. And on Tuesday he cashed in.
Smith agreed to a three-year contract extension with the
Carolina Panthers that will keep him with the team through the 2012
season. His agent, Derrick Fox, said he wasn't authorized to
release exact figures, but said the Los Angeles native will be
among the five highest-paid receivers in the NFL.
"I'm living out my dream. A knucklehead from L.A.," Smith
said. "It's that feeling where you're waiting for someone to wake
you up and nobody's been waking me up because I'm up already."
The 28-year-old Smith had three years left on a six-year, $27
million contract. He was scheduled to make $3.1, $3.6 and $4.2
million over the next three seasons.
The new contract totals $38 million.
"I would like to retire here and be the first or second Panther
in the Hall of Fame," Smith said.
Smith didn't always think that way. Lightly recruited, he went
to junior college before transferring to Utah. He was Carolina's
third-round pick in 2001 and was used as a kickoff and punt
returner as a rookie.
A year later he was charged with assault and suspended one game
for punching teammate Anthony Bright during a receivers film
But, slowly, Smith matured on and off the field. Using his
explosive speed and strength to overcome his lack of height, Smith
became Carolina's go-to receiver in the team's Super Bowl season in
2003. Two years later, he led the NFL with 103 catches for 1,563
yards and 12 touchdowns.
Smith also made Charlotte his permanent home and is involved in
numerous charitable activities.
"The thing that strikes you about Steve Smith is he wants to do
the right thing," general manager Marty Hurney said. "And he has,
he's matured just like we all do. He came in as a young kid, and
he's got a tremendous support group."
Fox said negotiations with Hurney began after the 2005 season,
when Smith became only the third player since 1970 to lead or tie
for the league lead in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns.
"When he had the Triple Crown season, Marty came to us and said
he had outplayed his contract," Fox said. "But it was a hard
process, because he was just two years in [to a six-year
A deal wasn't reached and negotiations stopped just before last
Smith's numbers declined in 2006. While he made his third Pro
Bowl despite missing the first two games with a hamstring injury,
Smith finished with 20 fewer catches, 400 fewer receiving yards and
four fewer touchdowns, and Carolina was a disappointing 8-8.
Still, the Panthers had made a long-term deal for Smith one of
their top priorities after they released veteran receiver Keyshawn
Johnson last week.
"Obviously, it's very important," Hurney said. "He's a
tremendous player and he's our kind of person. I think he's a force
in the community. It's the kind of player we want here as a
Panther. When you have the opportunity to have a guy like that to
come in as a Panther and hopefully finish as a Panther, I think
that's unique these days."
There's no doubt the Panthers are building their offense around
Smith. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning was fired, in part because
Smith didn't get the ball enough last season.
Smith was pleased with new coordinator Jeff Davidson's offense
at last weekend's minicamp. Davidson had said he wanted to find new
ways to get Smith the ball and prevent double and triple teams.
"This offense, it's not new, it's just a lot of new wrinkles,"
Smith said. "Obviously it's going to open up a lot more for the
run. Teams are going to have to commit guys less on me and more in
the box. So that's going to get me, I feel, a little bit more
one-on-one coverage. I work good one-on-one. I'm not into the
Smith said he spent the past "385 days" worrying about the new
contract. Smith seemed relieved and happy knowing where he'll be
the next six years.
"There were some rough times, some times where I kind of was
like, 'What's going on?"' Smith said. "But I knew it was going to
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.