Defensive end Chris Smith had a tough year. Last September, he lost his girlfriend in a tragic accident. In December, he was waived by the Cleveland Browns. Now, he gets another chance with his hometown team. 

On Wednesday night, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Smith is signing a one-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, who play less than an hour south of where he grew up. Smith played his high school ball at West Rowan high school in Mount Ulla, North Carolina, and later signed to play at the University of Arkansas. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Smith played in a handful of games in each of his first three NFL seasons, but was traded to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. In his first season as a Bengal, Smith played in all 16 games and recorded a career-high 26 combined tackles, three sacks and two passes defensed. He then signed a three-year deal with the Browns and again played in all 16 games in 2018, recording 21 combined tackles and one sack. 

On Sept. 11, 2019, Smith's girlfriend and mother of one of his children, Petara Cordero, was killed after being hit by a car on a highway in Cleveland. Smith had pulled over his vehicle after a tire malfunction, according to ESPN, and Cordero exited the car and stood on the road's shoulder before the accident. Cordero was 26.

"Words cannot describe the sorrow we feel for Chris following the loss of his girlfriend, Petara," Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a statement. "Our entire organization mourns with Chris, his family and the Cordero family. We will do everything possible to offer them our support, comfort and any resources in this most difficult time."

Less than three months later, Smith was waived by the Browns. He played in nine games in 2019, but recorded just one tackle. The 28-year-old defensive end now gets another chance in the NFL close to home. In 60 career games, Smith has recorded 68 combined tackles, 8.5 sacks and six passes defensed.