Steve Smith cut free, and Vince Wilfork may be next
Wide receiver Steve Smith was cut by the Carolina Panthers after playing 13 seasons in Charlotte. (USA Today)
First, Darrelle Revis. Then, Steve Smith. Next, maybe Vince Wilfork.
Who knew the cream of the NFL free-agent crop wouldn’t become available until AFTER Tuesday at 4 p.m EDT?
Well, that’s an overstatement in the case of Smith, the 34-year-old-but-still-dangerous wide receiver.
The Carolina Panthers released the five-time Pro Bowler on Thursday after 13 illustrious seasons in Charlotte.
But Revis and Wilfork? They’re arguably the best players at their positions -- cornerback and nose tackle, respectively -- in the NFL. As of now, both are members of the New England Patriots.
Revis signed with the Pats on Wednesday night, five hours after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers threw him overboard. First indications were that he signed for one year at $12 million, but it turns out the Pats have an option on a second year at $20 million.
It’s highly unlikely the club exercises that sky-high option. The Patriots seldom throw money like that at any player, not even at their beloved Tom Brady, who’s a steal at 14-mil per year through 2017.
Still, Wilfork’s nose evidently is pointing east while the rest of him faces north. The five-time Pro Bowler has one more season to go on a five-year, $40-million contract, which will pay him $8 million in 2014 between salary and roster bonus.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network broke the news Thursday that the 10-year Patriot has asked the club to release him.
SMITH BITTER? YOU BET
Smith, meantime, said he still loves the Panthers and owner Jerry Richardson, and all the fans in the Carolinas are reciprocating the sentiment.
“They’ve done great things for me, as a man and professionally,” Smith told Bleacher Report Radio. “I believe my legacy as a Carolina Panther exceeds one individual for a short amount of time … My residence here in Charlotte is permanent.”
Of course he was referring to general manager Dave Gettleman, the man who cut him who’s been on the job just over a year.
Smith told WFNZ radio that should whatever team he joins play at Carolina this season, “put your goggles on ’cause there’s going to be blood and guts everywhere.”
Smith was reported to be flying to Baltimore Thursday night to meet with the impact-receiver-needy Ravens on Friday.
TRADE OR DUMP
Other big names waiting to be dumped include Titans running back Chris Johnson and Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, if trade partners cannot be found.
Two veterans of note were dumped on Thursday: outside linebacker James Harrison (the former Pittsburgh Steelers star) by the Cincinnati Bengals, and offensive tackle Donald Penn by Tampa Bay.
SPROLES TO PHILLY
One player whose team did find a trade partner for him was Darren Sproles, the dual-threat running back and kick returner. The Saints dealt him on Thursday to the Eagles.
If Chip Kelly’s offence weren’t dangerous enough already with LeSean McCoy in the backfield, imagine it now with Sproles as an opposite-side halfback or, likely more often, lined up in the slot.
It’s a perfect fit for Sproles.
It was hard enough for Cowboys fans to watch their team’s top defender, DeMarcus Ware, get cut in a salary-cap move and wind up a day later on the Denver Broncos.
But to see the team’s second best D-lineman, tackle Jason Hatcher, sign with arch-nemesis Washington Redskins on Thursday had to have been salt on the lash wounds.
Elsewhere, the Oakland Raiders bounced back from a bizarre Day 2 to sign three impact players.
After inexplicably voiding their Day 1 deal with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold (failed medical, shoulder injury) the Raiders signed a pair of veteran pass rushers who have won Super Bowls: defensive end Justin Tuck (formerly of the New York Giants) for $11 million over two years and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (formerly of the Steelers), for $12 million over two years.
They also landed former New York Jets right offensive tackle Austin Howard, presumably to replace Saffold.
One report said embattled Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie apologized to the Saffold camp, implying that owner Mark Davis -- son of the late Al -- pulled the plug.
The Chicago Bears further bolstered their own defensive line and hurt a division rival in the process by signing defensive end Willie Young, formerly of the Detroit Lions. A year earlier the Lions pinched Bears starting defensive end Israel Idonije. Chicago also added wide receiver Dominik Hixon (from Carolina).
Other Day 3 signees included left tackle Anthony Collins in Tampa Bay; cornerback Captain Munnerlyn in Minnesota; defensive end Darryl Tapp in Detroit; wide receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. in Arizona; wide receiver Eric Decker with New York Jets; tight end Jim Dray in Cleveland; quarterback Kellen Clemens in San Diego; and quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in Tennessee.
Collins had the quote of the day. At his joint introductory news conference in Tampa Bay with fellow Bucs signee quarterback Josh McCown, the stud left tackle said few words in his introductory remarks:
“I have to protect this man, right here, with all my might. With all my might I have to protect this man right here. Nothing else (needs to be) said.”
Free agents who chose to stay put included Saffold in St. Louis; Green Bay Packers outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal; Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler; Packers tight end Andrew Quarless; Houston Texans right end Garrett Graham; Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson; Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson; Giants fullback Henry Hynoski, despite a hard push by Detroit; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Fred Evans; and Jaguars defensive end Jason Babin.
Cornerback Brandon Browner with the New England Patriots, Redskins and New Orleans Saints, per ESPN’s John Clayton, and San Francisco 49ers backup running back Anthony Dixon tweeted he was about to fly off to Buffalo after visiting Tennessee.