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Carolina Panthers

Smith signs three-year extension


CHARLOTTE - Wide receiver Steve Smith hasn't even thought about the possibility of hanging up his cleats, but when that day does come, he said there's a "high probability" he'll retire as a Carolina Panther.

Smith, who will turn 33 next month, signed a three-year contract extension with the Panthers on Tuesday.

"He's obviously a key player in our offense, and I think it was very important to take this opportunity," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "He had a year left on his contract, and our intention is that he's going to finish his career here. I think it's his intention. It's not something you see a lot these days."

Smith, the Panthers' third-round draft pick out of the University of Utah in 2001, said it would be "extremely special" to spend his entire NFL career – already a record-setting career – with one team.

He said during a press conference Tuesday that regardless of his football situation, he's set to call Charlotte home for at least the next 11 years with the oldest of his three children set to start high school in the fall.

As importantly, he's fired up about his hometown team.

"The coaches and the players - the organization - with the things that they're doing, it makes it real to easy to pretty much sign anything," Smith said. "I respect Coach (Ron) Rivera a lot. He has pushed me to grow and really examine what options I can bring to the table.

"That's been very enjoyable, and this is a great opportunity to continue to make a stronger foundation with what we're already building."

!Smith thrived in his first season under Rivera following a pair of relatively quiet seasons. With a helping hand from rookie quarterback Cam Newton, Smith ranked fifth in the NFL with 1,394 receiving yards, his highest yardage total since 2008. He caught 79 balls - best since 2007 - and scored seven touchdowns.

Along the way, Smith became the 35th player in NFL history to reach 10,000 receiving yards while passing Muhsin Muhammad as the franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards (10,278) and receptions (699).

It all added up to his fifth Pro Bowl appearance - matching the franchise record.

"It was kind of a rebirth, an opportunity for him to get a second chance at things," Rivera said. "Once things started happened at the beginning of the season, you could see that he truly believed in what we were doing.

"The day after he made the Pro Bowl, he came up and told me, 'Thank you. I appreciate you wanting me to be a part of this.' I told him, 'No, thank you for wanting to be here.' "

The increased likelihood that Smith will retire as a Panther reaffirms a commitment he first made to the franchise right after he was drafted.

"That would help cement my comment to Marty when I first met him, when we were negotiating my first contract right before training camp," Smith said. "I told him, 'I'll be the best Panther player to ever put on the uniform.' "

Smith now considers linebacker Sam Mills – who died the same day that Smith's youngest child was born – to be the greatest Panther of all time. Still, Smith will continue to strive to be mentioned in even the same paragraph as Mills.

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