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Utah football: Former Utes wide receiver Steve Smith released by Carolina

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In a move that was expected all week the Carolina Panthers released former Utah wide receiver Steve Smith on Thursday, March 13 -- ending weeks of speculation about the All-Pro’s future.

Smith ends his time in Carolina having played his entire 13-year NFL career for the Panthers, amassing 12,197 receiving yards and 67 touchdowns in his time there.

While Smith’s playing career is probably not over -- with many teams interested in him still -- he thanked the Panthers for having him for as long as they did.

"In the end, I will always be a Carolina Panther," Smith said in a statement on the team's Web site. "They gave a knucklehead from L.A. an opportunity to live a dream. I can never turn my back on that.

As Panthers GM Dave Gettleman indicated in his remarks, releasing Smith was not an easy thing to do -- considering the former Utah star and All-Pro was willing to move inside as a slot receiver as his playing days were numbered.

“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.

Teams such as Baltimore, Dallas and New England among others have been reported to have interest in Smith.

The former Ute’s next move will be among one of the most talked about in this NFL free agency period as he moves away from what he was familiar with -- towards a new start at the age of 35.

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