* After recently signing Pro Bowl WR Steve Smith to a three-year contract extension that makes him the second-highest-paid receiver in the game, the Panthers, we’re told, are now turning their attention to re-signing former first-round picks ORT Jordan Gross, whose contract expires after the 2007 season, and DE Julius Peppers, who still has two years remaining on his deal but is likely to command the richest contract for a defensive player in league history.
PFW's words aren't especially new or groundbreaking, but it's good to know things are in the works. My plea for a new contract for Smith in the wake of the Keyshawn Johnson release was timely, but I don't believe that either of these contracts is an absolute necessity right now.
The team cannot afford to lose Peppers, but that's also not likely to happen. Whether the team can afford to lose Gross depends partially on Gross, namely whether he can be the grizzled, athletic RT he was expected to be. Right now, Gross does enough to get by, beating opponents on talent but allowing himself to be walked back to the QB a lot more often than his sack statistics would suggest.
The problem? After a free agent session that saw mediocre linemen like Leonard Davis getting $7 million a year contracts, Steve Smith signed a deal worth around that much as well. To keep Gross, after that free agent session, may cost at least that much; getting a free agent tackle would certainly cost that much or more.
But is Gross, a second tier tackle at best, a better player than Smith, now one of the top 5 paid receivers in the league? Of course not. The team can't afford to lose Gross from a fiscal standpoint and can't afford to pay him like Smith or Peppers from a logical standpoint.