CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Carolina Panthers have officially released wide receiver Steve Smith from the team.
The Panthers made the announcement at 11:25 a.m. on Thursday morning via the team's twitter account.
"Steve Smith has been one of the NFL's finest receivers for over a decade and has been the face of the franchise for a large part of the team's history," says general manager Dave Gettleman. "This was not an easy decision. As a team, we made a step forward last year; however we are also a team in transition, which is a part of the NFL."
Smith has been in the National Football League (NFL) for 13 seasons since he joined the Panthers in 2001.
"Steve has been an important part of this team since I have been head coach and before my arrival," says head coach Ron Rivera. "I have coached against him and have had the benefit of having him on the Panthers. He is a great competitor with Hall of Fame worthy statistics and has made a great contribution to our community. I wish him nothing but the best."
Not long after the decision was delivered, Panther fans voiced their frustrations.
The team store at Bank of America stadium offered the backdrop for those coping with the reality that Steve Smith will no longer be on the roster.
Charlene Clarke is a Carolina Panthers fan who showed up at the afternoon protest.
"We knew that it would happen. We wished that it would have happened a different way," she said.
Face of the franchise and heart and soul of the team is how this receiver has been described in recent days.
Smith's departure is stuff that sports talk radio is made of, and when former Panther Frank Garcia hit the waves, one of callers on the line was number 89.
"This was the first time I was fired or let go from a job, and it was different," Smith said. "This is what it feels like."
Being picked for the pro bowl five times speaks highly to his skills on the field, but Smitty and his foundation are also being remembered away from the stadium for community outreach that has focused on ending domestic violence.
Karen Parker of Safe Alliance worked with Smith on several projects.
"He decided to start a foundation earlier this year to be able to help children and victims of domestic violence, and he came to us and offered to work with us and fund some of our programs."She said.
Smith has been a five-time Pro Bowl selection and stands 11 in NFL history for 100-yard receiving games, 19 for receiving yards and 25 for catches.
He holds more than 30 career, single-season and single-game franchise records on offense and special teams. He is the Panthers all-time leader with 75 total touchdowns (67 receiving, six returning, two rushing), 67 receiving touchdowns, 836 receptions, 12,197 receiving yards and 43 games with 100 or more receiving yards.
Smith stands second in team history with 182 games played, 161 games started and 454 points scored.
"When I took this position I knew that difficult decisions would have to be made along the way. To move on from a storied veteran player is probably the most difficult of all. A decision not to be taken lightly. However, after much thought I feel very strongly it's the right one," Gettleman said.
"As I've stated many times, all decisions I make will be in the long-term best interest of the Carolina Panthers," he continued. "Decisions, either popular or unpopular, have to be made for the greater good, and it is imperative to take an unemotional global view."
Gettleman says despite the opinions of some fans that the team will take a step back with the cut, he says the team has no interest in moving backwards.
"Nevertheless, like all NFL teams, we are in transition as we try to get into the best position going forward," Gettleman said. "When Mr. Richardson hired me I promised him that my goal would be to leave the Panthers in a better position than when I came. All my efforts are in that vein."
Gettleman pointed out that there will be many opportunities with the free agency and college draft to build the team's roster with new blood.
"I have great trust in our evaluation process.