Steve Smith has told me at least twice that he thought Marvin Harrison was the best receiver in football.
You don't have to play the game like Smith to appreciate the work of Harrison. Along the sidelines and over the middle, all smooth speed and a seeming lack of effort, Harrison is one of the best of all time. He is to Peyton Manning what Jerry Rice was to Joe Montana and Steve Young.
But the relationship has ended. The Colts asked Harrison to take a pay cut, a reasonable request, and he refused. So, at 36, he's free.
Harrison came out in the 1996 NFL draft, a draft known for receivers such as Keyshawn Johnson, Terry Glenn, Eddie Kennison, Eric Moulds, Bobby Engram, Terrell Owens, Amani Toomer, Joe Horn and -- Muhsin Muhammad.
I love Harrison's work, and it's interesting to think of him on one side and Smith on the other. But the Panthers have a great secret: wide receiver is one of their deeper positions and not one of their greatest needs. Harrison would be more valuable to Carolina if he could rush the passer.
When Muhammad returned to training camp last season, it was as if the younger players -- and that would be everybody but John Kasay -- rolled out a red carpet, opened doors and dropped to one knee. Muhammad's leadership was essential, his blocking still superb. And the man runs a nice, precise route.
Behind Muhammad the Panthers have the emerging Dwayne Jarrett and two receivers who were impressive in camp before sustaining season-ending injuries -- Ryne Robinson and Jason Carter. Almost every day in Spartanburg No. 11 would make a catch that would make you say, "Who was that?" After a week we would say, without consulting the roster, "Jason Carter."
Jarrett, Robinson and Carter are not Harrison. But each has a chance to emerge as a very good pro. Each is on his way up. And not one of them has been asked to take a pay cut.