When the speculation machine was churning at its highest peak during the lockout, Carolina’s Steve Smith was briefly a prime subject back in May. Smith had reportedly cleaned out his locker and put his house on the market, and he wanted out. Or so we thought.

He later talked to Pro Football Weekly to clear up any misunderstanding, saying that he didn’t demand a trade, and instead he just wanted to feel as though he’s in a “competitive situation.” Now he has that feeling, and the trade rumors have been officially put to rest.

After a productive meeting with Panthers general manager Marty Hurney last night, Smith said he wants to stay with the team and has no desire to be traded. Smith repeated those feelings to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, expressing his loyalty to the organization that drafted him in 2001.

“For me, I’m always going to be a Panther. They took a shot on me when I was coming from nowhere and now I’m going into my 11th year in the league. This will be where I retire, whether that’s five years from now or one year from now.”

Smith is 32 years old and has two years remaining on a six-year, $43.85 million deal he signed in 2007, and he’ll make $7 million this year and $7.75 million next year. His production has slid dramatically over the past two seasons (1,586 total yards, compared to 1,421 in 2008 alone), a standard fall for most receivers advancing into their mid-thirties. In fairness, the decline hasn’t been solely the product of Smith’s hands and legs, as the quarterback play in Carolina has been far from steady and reliable.

There’s only so much a receiver can do when he’s asked to find open space for the weak and/or inexperienced arms of Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore, and Jimmy Clausen. That painful effort usually ending in some interesting sideline conversations.

With either a young Clausen acting as a placeholder for Cam Newton or a young Newton learning on the job, veteran targets will be key in Carolina this year. The Panthers already acquired Jeremy Shockey prior to the lockout, and now the most experienced veteran on their offense is happy and content.

Smile while you can, Panthers fans.

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