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Should You Trade Steve Smith?

Close to a year ago this time,

Randy Moss owners were despondent over the loss of

Tom Brady to a season-ending knee injury and were trying to decide whether to keep the star wide receiver or trade him. Coincidentally enough, the 2009 season is barely a week old, and we have another stud receiver facing dire fantasy uncertainty –

Steve Smith. No, his current starting quarterback,

Jake Delhomme, is not injured, although I suspect many Carolina Panthers fans wish he was sitting on Injured Reserve or playing for another team right now. As you probably know, Delhomme’s level of play was shockingly terrible in his last two games, which obviously snuffed out Smith’s fantasy production.

 

If you had drafted Smith this year, you probably bought into the explanation (or excuse) that Delhomme’s miserable performance (six turnovers) during a stunning blowout playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals last season was just, “an unexpected bad game,” as Panthers head coach John Fox described it. However, after watching Delhomme self-destruct in similar fashion (five turnovers) against the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, one is reminded of the old adage, “When something happens once, it’s a fluke. When something happens twice, it’s a trend.” Is Delhomme finished? Smith’s 2009 fantasy fortunes obviously are tied to the play of Delhomme and probably the play of one or both of

Carolina’s backup quarterbacks, which has you nervous Smith owners wondering whether you should trade the stud wideout or keep him and hope for the best.

 

HOW DID WE GET TO THIS POINT?

 

Let us go back to January 2009. Smith had just wrapped up one of the more productive regular seasons (2008) of his career – 78 receptions for 1,421 yards and six touchdowns — thanks to the return of the 34-year-old Delhomme, who was coming off surgery (“Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery) on his right (throwing) elbow. Although Delhomme had demonstrated diminished arm strength and occasional accuracy problems, he got the ball to Smith regularly, serving as a game manager for an offense that had rediscovered its prolific rushing attack. Delhomme’s numbers were barely passable by NFL starting quarterback standards:

 

Delhomme (2008 regular season):

  • Passing Yardage: 3,288

  • Touchdown Passes: 15

  • Interceptions: 12

  • Completion percentage: 59.4

  • Passing Yards Per Game: 205.3

  • Touchdown Passes Per Game: 0.94

  • Interceptions Per Game: 0.75

  • 300-yard Passing Games: 0

  • 200-yard Passing Games: 8

  • Games with multiple TD passes: 4

  • Games with one touchdown pass: 7

  • Games with zero touchdown passes: 5

Thanks to winning 12 games and the NFC South division title in 2008, the Panthers earned a playoff bye and the privilege of playing their first postseason game in front of their home crowd at Bank of America Stadium, which was the site of Delhomme’s first disastrous game (Meltdown No. 1). During his club’s 33-13 loss to

Arizona, Delhomme turned the ball over six times (five interceptions and one lost fumble) while completing 17-of-34 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown. Smith, meanwhile, was limited to just two catches for 43 yards and one garbage-time touchdown reception.

 

If you believe what Fox and general manager Marty Hurney say, they evaluated Delhomme during the offseason. They apparently concluded that despite his up-and-down play during the regular season and the

Arizona playoff fiasco, Delhomme was more than serviceable as a starter, and bringing in a rookie or a younger player would hinder what was already a playoff-caliber team. Fox and Hurney gave Delhomme a vote of confidence in late April (and freed up some salary-cap space), inking him to a five-year, $42.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed. The Panthers’ brain trust apparently believed that whatever caused Delhomme’s struggles in that Cardinals playoff loss could be corrected, and many fantasy owners – myself included – believed that. Should Delhomme’s one lousy playoff performance outweigh his overall solid play in 16 regular season games? The answer in the minds of many of us at that time was “no.”

 

Delhomme’s well-publicized second disastrous game (Meltdown No. 2), as you surely know, happened during the Panthers’ 2009 home opener – a brutal 38-10 shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles at Bank of America Stadium. The loss had to have given the

Carolina fans in attendance a sickening sense of deja vu, because Delhomme played as ineptly as he did during Meltdown No. 1. His stat line from the Eagles loss: 7-for-17 with 73 yards with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and one ugly lost fumble.

 

CAROLINA

’S CURRENT QB SITUATION

 

Evaluating the quarterbacks who will likely take starting snaps for the Panthers this season is the best way to speculate about Smith’s 2009 fantasy stock.

 

Delhomme

– I am sure Delhomme is a nice person, but I think he is washed up as an NFL quarterback. The 11-year pro’s arm strength and accuracy appear noticeably diminished. It’s obvious to many that Delhomme has become too dependent on Smith, refusing to spread the ball around regularly. In fairness to Delhomme, his other targets leave a lot to be desired.

Muhsin Muhammad is too slow and over the hill,

Dwayne Jarrett is a bust, the tight ends are below average and the offense does not regularly use the talented

DeAngelo Williams and

Jonathan Stewart as receivers, which really puzzles me. I am not a psychologist, but I suspect that Delhomme’s confidence is shot after he endured Meltdown No. 1 and Meltdown No. 2. In addition, the tougher defensive units that he will face this season, like the Eagles, will not let him get away with the often-errant throws that he succeeded with against softer defenses last season.

 

A.J. Feeley

– The Panthers signed Feeley after they placed

Josh McCown (leg, ankle) on Injured Reserve, ending his season. A former fifth-round draft selection of the Eagles (2001), the 32-year-old Feeley has played in the NFL just five seasons:

 

  • 2001-2002 (Eagles)

  • 2004 (Dolphins)

  • 2006-2007 (Eagles)

 

He is regarded in NFL circles as a reasonably competent backup player with adequate experience but little upside. Feeley did not take a regular season snap in 2008. Three starts during the 2007 regular season represent the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Feeley’s most recent playing experience:

 

A.J. FEELEY – 2007 STARTS W/PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Opp

Result

Cmp

Att

Cmp%

Yds

TD

Int

Rate

MIA

W 17-07

13

19

68.4

116

1

1

80.2

NE

L 28-31

27

42

64.3

345

3

3

83.9

SEA

L 24-28

19

42

45.2

220

1

4

30.0

 

Is Feeley the Panthers’ No. 2 quarterback right now or is it

Matt Moore? We will find out Sunday if (or when) Delhomme struggles again.

 

Moore

– The 25-year-old Moore, who joined the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2007, is entering his fourth pro season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds,

Moore is recognized for his good mechanics and his nice touch on throws, but the

Carolina coaching staff apparently does not think he is starter material.

Moore went 6-for-11 for 63 yards with no touchdowns and one interception this past Sunday in mop-up time against

Philadelphia. He has played in 10 regular season games in his career, which includes three starts during the 2007 season.

 

MATT MOORE – 2007 STARTS W/CAROLINA PANTHERS

Opp

Result

Cmp

Att

Cmp%

Yds

TD

Int

Rate

SEA

W 13-10

19

27

70.4

208

0

0

92.8

DAL

L 13-20

15

28

53.6

182

1

1

70.8

TAM

W 31-23

15

24

62.5

174

2

1

94.8

 

Moore

, a

Carolina fan favorite, did not receive any playing time during the 2008 regular season.

 

TRADE SMITH OR KEEP SMITH?

 

I will give you Smith owners the same advice that I gave to Moss owners last season: You can try to trade Smith, but you probably will not get fair value in return – unless you receive a generous offer of another decent starting receiver from an idiot owner who is obsessed with the “buy low” prospects of acquiring Smith. The fantasy football universe is a small one; everyone knows about Delhomme’s struggles and

Carolina’s lack of a proven backup quarterback. Unless you receive a reasonably palatable trade offer for Smith, I think you are better off just rolling with him this season and coping with what I suspect will be up-and-down fantasy performances.

 

My prediction for the Panthers’ quarterback situation? I am guessing that Delhomme has until

Carolina’s Week 4 bye to rediscover his game – which I doubt he will successfully do. The bye week is the ideal time for

Carolina to get a new starter ready to play. Delhomme’s potential replacement could receive copious reps with the first-team offense during the off week and possibly start in Week 5. I remember watching Feeley play in 2007, and he seemed competent bordering on slightly above average overall with some nice Eagles talent around him. However, keep in mind that Feeley has not taken a regular season snap since 2007 and does not know the

Carolina offense. Could

Moore be the 2009 version of

Matt Cassel? Okay, that is a huge reach, but

Moore has some talent and does know the Panthers’ offensive scheme. If Delhomme is benched and Feeley/Moore struggle badly in his place, I could see Delhomme getting another chance to start.

 

Assuming

Carolina employs a three-headed quarterback attack of Delhomme/Feeley/Moore, what kind of numbers should you expect from Smith? I think we can use

Carolina’s 2007 season as a measuring stick to make a prediction. During that year, Delhomme suffered his season-ending elbow injury in Week 3, forcing the Panthers to rely on a rotation of Moore,

David Carr (no longer with the team) and an aging

Vinny Testaverde for the rest of the season. Smith ended up catching 87 balls for 1,002 yards and seven scores, which are solid numbers – all things considered. I think that is close to what you can hope for from Smith this season.

 

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