That’s the report from Pro Football Weekly’s Eric Edholm, who says that Steve Smith will agree to a contract extension with the Panthers later today.
Although the financial details aren’t available, Edholm reports that Smith will remain in place as Cam Newton’s primary target until the 2015 season, with the contract containing an option for an additional year in 2016. Smith was heading into the final year of a six-year contract and was set to become a free agent a year from now, so securing him was a priority vital to Newton’s continued development.
The amount of candles on Smith’s birthday cake is problematic, though, despite his elite production in 2011 when he had 1,394 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns on 79 catches. Hopefully they’re properly in proportion to the amount of dollars in his bank account after he was slated to make $7.75 million in 2012.
Edholm also writes that he expects the deal to be similar in value to Reggie Wayne’s contract, about a month after the Colts wide receiver re-signed in Indianapolis for three years under an agreement that will pay him $17.5 million, but the back-loaded terms will only give him $1 million in the first year, and $5 million in the final year when he’ll be 36.
Wayne also received a $7.5 million signing bonus, which acted as both a sweetener for him to stay in Indy as one of the Colts’ few remaining veteran anchors to help with Andrew Luck’s development, and it’s simply a wise contract structure. New GM Ryan Grigson ensured that the Colts are protected against the threat of a swift decline as Wayne ages.
Smith finds himself in a nearly identical situation. He’s the same age as Wayne (Smith turns 33 in May), and yet he’s still a highly productive, reliable veteran receiving presence who’s developed chemistry with a dynamic young quarterback. The hurdle, of course, is father time, or perhaps more accurately, death. Football death.
The wide receiver graveyard is littered with formerly elite talents who abruptly decline in their early to mid 30s, and no amount of Pro Bowl caliber talent around them in an offense can halt that fall. We have no idea what to expect from Randy Moss in San Francisco, but we know that two years ago in New England with Tom Brady under center and Wes Welker offering support from the slot, he was awful, and he had just 28 receptions between three teams.
Like Smith now, Moss was 33 in 2010. Chad Ochocinco was also born in those wild, crazy times of 1978, and he’s barely holding on to his football career after being forced to take a pay cut in New England following a year in which he had just 15 receptions. With the exception of his rookie season when he only started three games, Ocho’s previous season-low reception total was his 53 in 2008.
Moss and Ochocinco should serve as strong cautionary examples of the aging receiver and his tendency to quickly fade into the rocking chair phase of his career. With that knowledge, Wayne’s contract is indeed the ideal model for the Panthers, a deal that minimizes risk by hiding the bulk of the money in the back end.
But there’s little reason to have faith in the Panthers and their ability to manage aging assets. This is a franchise that gave DeAngelo Williams, a 28-year-old running back, a five-year contract worth $43 million last summer, with $21 million guaranteed.
Williams will blow out 29 candles in two weeks, and next fall he’ll make $5.25 million after a season when he posted a lower rushing total than Fred Jackson, even though Jackson missed six games.
UPDATE: The Panthers have confirmed the extension, with NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reporting that Smith will receive roughly $18 million guaranteed. He more than deserves that money now, but who knows what receiver GM Marty Hurney will be paying three years from now when Smith is 36, an age when few elite receivers are still earning their elite paycheck.
Nice risk management there, Panthers.