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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Carr, Harrington Pursued

In an attempt to dodge a young quarterback to groom and test the limits of irony, John Fox and Marty Hurney have added David Carr to the quarterback hunt, alongside Joey Harrington. Both quarterbacks were considered in the 2002 draft by Carolina, and the pair went on either side of eventual pick Julius Peppers. Peppers has been a Pro Bowler the last three years; in that time, Carr has lost his job, and Harrington has lost his numerous times (including two releases and being benched countless times more).

Both will visit this upcoming week. The team had been interested in Harrington, who spent the last month in Africa, but hadn't set up a meeting. Carr recently came available after the Texans traded for Atlanta's Matt Schaub.

Carolina is fighting Seattle, Oakland for Carr; each of the three have potential positives but it'll likely come down to money in the short term. It's anticipated that Carolina will attempt to deal with Carr first, and look to Harrington after. If either is signed, it would be the first major move made by a very cautious Carolina squad this offseason, and the only "need" crossed off the team's list before the draft.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Panthers Lose Out Again

Worries of 2004's cheapish spending and lack of addressing need don't apply: 2004's version of Carolina could at least land a player or two.

After pursuing DE Dave Bowens for the last week, the team lost him to the New York Jets, who recently had signed ends Kenyon Coleman, Michael Haynes, Andre Wadsworth (who had been out of the league for the last 6 seasons).

As well, the team had previously expressed interest in LB Kawika Mitchell, a starter for the Chiefs; no recent interest had been expressed, however. Mitchell signed with the Giants this week.

Overall, not huge losses at all, but the team lost out on two players in which it had expressed interest, and players whose depth would've been very critical to the team's success; now, both critical positions need to be addressed by rookies. Needs like offensive tackle, return specialist, and tight end get pushed down the list to supplement a defense that requires a strong end and insurance at MLB, besides the enormous vacancy at safety, to remain strong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Daily Mike Minter Update: Retirement

Not to take focus away from his service in Carolina, but some outlets may start putting a reporter "on assignment" just to cover Mike Minter lately.

Minter, just after having re-structured, and just after rumors came out from the team that Minter may not start next year, came out today to state he was retiring after the 2007 season. Minter's career with Carolina speaks for itself, and while it won't matter to the league's history, it will go down as one of the more storied careers in team history for years to come.

Minter's restructuring turns out to be, like friend Mike Rucker's contract, a simple pay cut, and an honorable act toward a team that has treated him well in the past but has also relied on Minter's own kindness to keep a relationship open. While Minter, in 2000, canceled a trip to Cleveland as a free agent to take a lower offer to stay with Carolina, he's watched Deon Grant and Marlon McCree get huge paydays. Grant, as a matter of fact, competed a contract and got paid again.

Minter's 2000 contract was reasonable; his 2004 contract wasn't as reasonable for a level of play that had started to decline. For players like Minter and Rucker, late in their careers, not guaranteed anything past this year, to take million dollar paycuts, is remarkable, and I hope that these two are allowed to have a significant role in the team in the future.

Cheap Depth Continues to Dominate Free Agency

The team has recently added yet more defensive depth with experience: CB Curtis Deloatch, a former Giant, DT Chad Lavalais, a three-year Falcon, and S Deke Cooper, a former Panther and Jaguar. All three have starting experience in their young careers but have lost favor with their current teams.

Cooper will likely fight for a 4th safety spot with Nate Salley. Cooper walked on from Notre Dame as a backup free safety and played for Carolina in 2002 before going with Jack Del Rio and Al Reynolds to jacksonville, where he started in place of injured Donovin Darius.

Deloatch, undrafted from NC A&T, walked on with the Giants under DC Tim Lewis (now DBs coach with Carolina) in 2004, playing all 16 games, before starting 13 in 2005. Waived in camp in 2006, Deloatch played for the Saints and scored a touchdown returning a blocked punt. Between Deloatch, Derrick Strait, and Garnel Wilds, the team has enough competition to play for the 4th CB spot.

Carolina needs a punt returner, and the 4th CB slot is a potential place for that role, but the team could also add that role at the 4th WR slot currently taken up by Keary Colbert.

Lavalais (6'1, 295) was a 5th round pick out of LSU (2004), and started 6 games that year before starting all of 2005. Lavalais' role was relieving injured starters, and the team felt they needed better depth at DT. In Carolina, he'll fight for the 5th DT spot, which isn't a guarantee for a roster spot. It does give the team injury depth, a guy the team can call midseason to return to the team if he doesn't make the roster.


The team signed DE Dave Ball, DT Stephen Williams, LB Terrence Melton in the past few weeks, looking to gain experience in the deeper spots of the defensive roster. This won't keep the team from drafting defense, with major needs still present, but will keep the team from having to go completely defense and allow Day 2 of the draft to be a way of cultivating competition.

The team still has up to two needs at safety, an unresolved need behind Dan Morgan at MLB (essentially a starting spot), and needs depth and future ability at DE. These moves, however, ensure some amount of veteran depth along a very solid defense.

Bowens getting continued interest

DE David Bowens, a former starter and solid situational rusher, is still getting significant interest from the Panthers, says agent Harold Lewis through the Rock Hill Herald. The team has pursued Bowens heavily in the past week, but are still fighting the Jets, Patriots, and Dolphins for his services.

Getting Bowens in would complete the team on the DL, theoretically; Rucker and Peppers being backed by Bowens, Stanley McClover, and recent Dave Ball should be plenty going into camp. It's not certain at all whether the team would keep 5 DE or 5 DT, but they keep at least 9 DL on the active roster. Completing a team need going into the draft would sharpen the focus of the team's needs toward the back end of the defense and adding playmaking to the offense.

If Carolina loses out on Bowens, expected to sign a backup contract around the value of Damione Lewis' deal last year, they're expected to wait until the draft or possibly return Al Wallace, a Carolina backup from 2002-2006.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Minter "may not start": Curiousity meets Ingenuity?

Undoubtedly, even the Panthers can see that Mike Minter's not the player he was, and during the restructuring process that somehow 'leaked'. The problem? Rubbing together two players to be the starters that would push Minter out of the picture. For Minter to be a reserve, it would take two players, and the team only has one other player at safety - Nate Salley. The 4th round pick, who lacks speed and hands but has size, was a special-teams player who couldn't make the active roster when everyone else was healthy.

Why was this leaked, however? It's not as if a commitment to Minter for this year (which is what a restructure would do) is a bad thing for him, from an image standpoint, so to have the rumor come from Minter's own party makes no sense. From a team standpoint, they could use the rumor to their own advantage - deception - but could harm their own efforts to get a badly needed safety, and would certainly not help their relationship with Minter by doing so.

Nonetheless, the rumor is a curious one - shaky even - and the Panthers are in a tough spot at safety anyway. There's no hiding that the team will pursue at least one player there, so spilling the supposed statement helps no one.

Top that off with this: Ken Hamlin signed with Dallas this week, meaning every good safety's now gone from the market. Tyrone Carter is still out there, if you like a guy who hasn't started in years. There's Jay Bellamy, if you like your safeties older than Minter and without having started 2006. There's Mike Doss, an imperfect but probably best possible option right now. What else? It's all gone past that.

The idea of competition is a good one, and Minter could be very helpful in a supporting role. Minter could thrive as a nickel player at the line taking the place of a LB, and certainly still on special teams. It'd be as far as to say that Minter could be special teams captain, voted by the players, if he wasn't given a starting spot. Problem is, for all this to happen, Minter would have to be challenged by someone, and as of yet the team has just short of nothing.

Links to players, but little movement

The recent addition of DE David Ball (5th round pick, 2004), LB Terrence Melton (former Saints special teamer) and DT Stephen Williams (Chiefs) were yawners, but there may be some solid depth in the trio.

Williams (6'2, 305) played off and on with the Chiefs this past season, and worked on their practice squad as well, in his inaugural season after playing for NE Missouri State and Indiana. Williams would fight for the 5th DT spot, if the team carried a player there (the team started with 6 DTs before cutting Tony Brown early in the season). It's not expected he would beat out the top 4 players returning, however.

Melton (6'1, 235), an inside linebacker, is a 3 year vet with some special teams experience; he also had a penchant for mistakes and penalties. Melton's at a position that's in need of something more substantive; whether the team does make a move at MLB is harder to say, based on what they think of Adam Seward (both positionally and quantitatively) and what happens in the draft, deep on MLBs.

Ball will most likely make the team - whether as a 4th end or 5th, depends on what they do at end from here. Ball doesn't add a starter, but hasn't played in a 4-3 in his four years in the NFL. As a star at UCLA, Ball racked up 13.5 sacks as a senior, in that defense; since, taking up space in a 3-4, Ball hasn't flourished. As a rotational player, the team could use Ball to spell Mike Rucker; he probably brings more solid play against the run than Stanley McClover as well. Whether the team adds to end likely depends on what's there, but keeps them from having to force a pick there early (or late) if the right guy's not available.


In the last week, Chris Draft signed with the Rams, to back up Will Witherspoon. The move left Draft continuing to complain over his lack of attention from Carolina. Meanwhile, Mike Minter's restructure did two things - delay the inevitable cap hit, which will keep him from retiring (the cap charge would be toward money he'd need to repay if retired), and free up money for now. Carolina has $9.5 million to spend, of which draft picks would take up about half; as of yet the three above signings are the extent of Carolina's free agency period.

TE Doug Jolley hasn't signed anywhere; Carolina contingency plans Shaun Williams (S) and Al Wallace (DE) haven't either.

One more possible signing involves former Dolphins DE David Bowens. Not a starter since 2004, Bowens would move Rucker to a starting role that would mainly involve playing the run; the 6'3, 265 lb end is being courted heavily by the Jets, has received interest in staying with the Dolphins, and has also been courted by the Patriots. Don't expect a signing, but the move would finally cross DE off the draft list and give the team stability no matter what happens with Rucker's injury or 2008 free agent status.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

LBs not happy; Finally, A Visit

Doug Jolley isn't upset; Brian Simmons and Chris Draft were.

Draft, still unsigned, and Simmons, who expressed interest in Carolina, both came out recently as "disappointed" in the Panthers for not receiving offers. Simmons, a UNC alum, is a legitimate starter, having played nine years for the Bengals, and expected to be paid like a starter. Draft, meanwhile, started all 16 games for the Panthers, and is also looking for starter money.

Given the volatile nature of Dan Morgan's injury situation, that may not have been unwise; however, the team doesn't want to put starter money into insurance policies this year. Simmons can't play the weakside role; Draft can, but was better suited to the middle. The team seems more likely to draft a successor to Morgan this year than to force another veteran into the mix.

It seems as if there's contention as to whether Draft could've played the weakside role better than re-signed WLB Na'il Diggs, who has an injury history; Diggs is a good runstopper but lacks in coverage and blitzing. Draft tends to be more evenly skilled, showing some ability as a blitzer, but struggled playing the weakside position with Diggs injured.

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Jolley, a five year veteran and former 2nd round pick, is coming to Charlotte for a visit, expected to meet with the team Wednesday. A 6'5, 250 lb. BYU product, Jolley is a solid starting option for the Panthers at TE. While Jolley dealt with injuries last year, his first four years splitting time had shown decent results: per year averages of 8 starts, 30 catches, 325 yards, 1.5 TDs. Jolley is a decent seam outlet and intermediate option, but not an elite goal line threat or deep threat. An average blocker and receiver, Jolley isn't a star, but is a better player than Kris Mangum, and likely a better player than Michael Gaines.


The tight end market is nearly dry, and the team has a hole there. There may be a bit more urgency to get what's left before it's all gone. Jolley's not a desperate option, but he's one of the last quality options available. He would also be one of a very small number of free agent tight ends signed under the John Fox era - Jermaine Wiggins (who's also available) and Freddie Jones being the only others of mention in five years.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Backing Quarterbacks

Chris Weinke ended a tumultuous relationship with the Panthers this week, having been released Tuesday. The former annointed starter - a misplaced beacon of hope in the disaster that had been the 2001 season - Weinke eventually earned a near-heroic backup status after helping save the Detroit game in 2005, a feat that earned him a new three year contract.


At the time I worried that the complacency Weinke showed by not looking to fight for a job was problematic, but took the status quo. 2006 showed a very shaken Weinke, as we all saw.


A year after re-signing, and three months after going from possible alternative to the only QB in the league that had to leave the field for third down, Weinke is done, possibly for his career.
Alternatives? The team brought in Marques Tuiasosopo, the former Raiders' 2nd round pick that's accomplished very little; he left without a contract despite desperately wanting a job anywhere. The team talked to Patrick Ramsey, former 1st rounder for the Redskins; he signed with Denver for 2 years, $5 million.
The only other moderately experienced option is former 49er and Buc Tim Rattay. Carolina saved only $800,000 with the release of Weinke.

Week in Review

Due to illness, I haven't updated, but not for lack of news: in the last week, the aftermath of huge free agent contracts has continued to set a chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots" - though in many cases the abstaining teams are by choice. With theoretical targets like Daniel Graham getting $15 million in guarantees, and $30 million overall over five years, the market's out of control. Graham has been an oft-injured, part-time starter the last few years, and while a good player, not on the elite scale of an Antonio Gates, a player who now makes less than Graham.

And now with Graham, Tony Stewart, Eric Johnson, recently released Randy McMichael, and Kyle Brady signed, there isn't much left at the position.

Deon Grant, the former Panther whose departure has left a hole in the team's secondary for the greater portion of the time since, has set the market for safeties this year with a 6 year, $30 million deal that Ken Hamlin, still on the market, is expected to eclipse. Terrence Holt has signed with Arizona, and Kevin Kaesviharn is talking to New Orleans and Cleveland, narrowing the availability of veterans at the position.

Over 20% of available free agents have already signed, and most of them to deals that are well above market - consider Leonard Davis. A former "sure-thing" OT, the behemoth from Texas was a shoe-in and "safe pick" for Arizona but hasn't performed well; after giving up 8 sacks for the Cardinals last year, Davis got $50 million over 7 years because Eric Steinbach and Derrick Dockery had already inked deals worth $49 and $49.5 million each. All of this came because of perennial All-Pro Steve Hutchinson's 7 year, $49 million contract last year; Hutchinson was considered the best guard in football, and the three big guards this year have never been given accolades at this level at all.

It's reasonable to see the Panthers not making moves - it's almost re-assuring. But the team needs to come to terms with the idea of doing something - anything. Improve the team, because attrition alone will be hard to overcome.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Staying The Course - In Moderation, As All Things

With Marty Hurney in the press all but turning free agents away, there's a good and bad side to the way Carolina is handling things.

The good? It's financially responsible. They did make calculated risks the last two years, expecting that the deals would get worse. And truthfully, they did - Mike Wahle, Pro Bowler, for $30 million, or Derrick Dockery, an average starter, for $49 million? Ken Lucas, playing at a Pro Bowl level for $6 million a year, or Nate Clements for $10 million a year?

The bad? We're not getting better, and the team is a bit deluded if it things getting two offensive linemen back from injury, and simply changing coordinators, will solve all problems. I'm hopeful both things will make a difference, but that and a misleading 5-1 record in the division isn't enough to stay the course.

If they had Julius Peppers in for $7.5-8 million a year, one year ago, they would be nothing short of genius. If their "stay the course" situation would've netted a contract to Will Witherspoon, as a restricted free agent before 2005, we would've had a top player return for $5 million a year instead of losing him for $7 million. If Ma'ake Kemoeatu had worked out better, they'd look like masters of the game. Had Justin Hartwig suited up at all, I'm sure a number of things would've been different.

Hell, had they kept Deon Grant, they wouldn't have had to have brought in or tried or considered three existing players, three draft picks, and four free agents (so far, that is - remember, we're still not settled) in replacing him. Out of that, they got one good season of safety play, and that safety, Marlon McCree, predictably bolted for even more than Grant, a deal it would've been foolish to attempt to match. It's not even a matter of Grant being so great he couldn't be replaced. He just wasn't replaced.

The 2004 model we've already tried once? It doesn't work unless you hit just right. That year's been the only year we really went responsibly into a season, and the players we got out of that? One is realistically playing good football (Brandon Short), and for another team. The rest? Washouts.

Even the draft picks were awful - Chris Gamble's worth a few great picks a year, but is already demoted to backup status (luckily, because he's got two great corners ahead of him). Keary Colbert couldn't beat out anyone who's had more than 5 catches in a season, and Drew Carter's situationally great - but disappeared when the team needed him the most. Travelle Wharton was the best part of this draft - as an adequate left tackle. Now with a bum knee, we're left to hope he'll be as good as he was.

It's critical in this pick-and-choose, cautious form of maintaining rather than building, that we still choose well. We still need to come up with one upgrade, hopefully at TE or S. It doesn't have to be huge money, but to be at least as good as we should've been anyway, we can't just recycle everyone and hope.

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One area we do look to want to get better? Special teams. Our leading tacklers are gone. Our return men may very well be brand new (again). And it should go - everything except the three kicking game specialists. We need new blockers, returners, coverage men and gunners. This may be all that saved Danny Crossman, in possibly the team's worst year of special teams play ever.

Smith's Contract Possibly Set - Peppers Contract Speculation

Andre Johnson, who led the league in receptions with 103 but was 11th in yardage, signed a 6 year, $39 million contract this week, including $13.5 million in bonuses. With Steve Smith's overall value expected to be more than Johnson's, this sets an initial starting point to extending Smith, not unlike using Chad Johnson's contract extension as a starting point in 2004. An early guess at a Smith extension could look something like this: 6 years, $41.5 million, with a $14.5 million bonus. It's not always as sumple as that, but in the end, it may be close. Smith has three years left on his deal, including $3.15 million in salary; a deal like the one proposed above would pay out a bonus this year around $7 million, another one next year worth $3 million, and have $1 million roster bonuses built into the remaining years. This structure would also save the team $1.8 million this year.

None of the defensive ends franchised have signed this week, but two deals may impact any possible Julius Peppers contract discussion - CB Nate Clements signed an 8 year, $80 million deal with a $23 million bonus, and OLB Adalius Thomas signed a deal believed to be worth $7.5 million a year with a $17.5 million bonus. While the Clements deal may be extremely backloaded, it may set a precedent.

Gross Option, Wahle Restructure, and the Future Of The Offensive Line

Jordan Gross' triggered incentives, threatening to increase his cap hit to $4.9 million, turned out to be a buyout clause that allowed the contract to be torn up for the 2008-09 seasons, which means the remaining bonus proration is absorbed into this season. Gross' new cap number is $3.4 million. Most of that number isn't able to be reworked, so no cap relief could be earned from an extension, unlike restructuring deals put together for players like Jake Delhomme and Mike Wahle.

The team has talked about an extension with Gross, and given the high cost of linemen Eric Steinbach and Derrick Dockery (in the range of $7 million a year, at the cheaper position of guard), it's unlikely they would've been the party to void the final two years if they do want to keep him around. It would be unlikely they could find a replacement outside of the draft that would be more reasonably priced.

Wahle, who restructured this week, saved the team $1.3 million by converting salary into signing bonus.


The rest of the line is in flux, ready to be re-structured by new OC Jeff Davidson, a former line coach, and new line coach Dave Magazu. One positive about the 2006 season, despite the line being heavily blamed for lack of production, is that young players Evan Mathis, Geoff Hangartner, Jeremy Bridges, and Will Montgomery all received significant experience. At least two of these players will compete for the one vacant position, right guard; at this point, it's most likely that Bridges will remain a backup tackle.

Mathis and Hangartner will be restricted free agents after this year, and starting tackles Gross and Travelle Wharton are unrestricted free agents. Once the team finds its best five starters, undoubtedly the next worry will be finding a way to keep it together, and most troubling of the group is the tackle situation. The team could stand to lose one tackle, but not both; losing one would require a high expenditure on a veteran.

To compound things, Wharton is coming off of injury, so the team would have to wait until the end of the year to talk extension with him, and his backup, Rashad Butler, was inactive the entire year despite being able to play only left tackle and there being a major injury at his position.

If the team has room to make a move this offseason on the line (and with a full roster of 9 on staff and tons of needs at other positions, it's unlikely at this time), it would be at left tackle, pitting another player against Butler.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Hamlin, Grant, and Lewis

A recent Marty Hurney interview on panthers.com stated that the team's goal was to bring back 21 of 22 starters - noting they felt that Michael Gaines was a starter and hinting that they had no interest in bringing free agent safety Shaun Williams back.

Williams, who has experience both with Fox and new DBs coach Tim Lewis from his time in New York, isn't expected to be back. "Special teams-only" backup Kevin McCadam was released this week, leaving only Mike Minter and second-year S Nate Salley at the position. The conventional wisdom is that Carolina would need to sign a free agent to start opposite Minter, and draft a young player to eventually replace him.

While the draft is topheavy with playmakers LaRon Landry (LSU) and Reggie Nelson (Florida), there's also significant depth to the position that could last through the third round. Therefore, the team might be better off not waiting for a young player they'd have to start right off - and then having another player to cultivate across from him as soon as next year. There's also the basic logistical problem of filling all their other needs in the draft and have to

There are three "names" in free agency as of now - Ken Hamlin, Deon Grant, and Michael Lewis. Lewis, of the three, is the riskiest and least expensive. A true SS, Lewis was benched this year by Philadelphia because of major coverage limitations, but was linked to Carolina by ESPN.

Grant, a free safety, was a Panther from 2000-03, and left for Jacksonville after the Super Bowl. He still has a tie to Mike Minter, and the staff here, but Minter is a free safety at this point in his career as well - the team putting together various projects at SS over the last few years trying to get larger at SS to improve coverage v/s the TE.

Hamlin has played both spots, is a feared hitter, and has good coverage but somewhat limited range. A natural for SS, Hamlin has been a major part of a strong secondary in the Seahawks' playoff runs.

None of the major safeties have signed to this point in free agency, and the team could go with a less heralded but more rangy player like the Steelers' Tyrone Carter.



Nate Salley, to this point, hasn't shown anything to suggest he can be more than a special teamer. It would be a bonus to even show he can be rostered for an entire season.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Two potential visits?

Various outlets on the internet are reporting that S Ken Hamlin and LB Kawika Mitchell are visiting.

The sources, all apparently stemming from one mention, are suggesting that the team "sent a jet" to get them.

Going on assumptions that the rumors are true, Hamlin is as good a safety as is available. A natural fit at strong safety, Hamlin is the best option available for the Panthers' scheme, assuming the team wants to keep incumbent safety Mike Minter at FS.

The Charlotte.com rumor going around is that the team is consulting with Minter over available safeties to "see who he'd like to play with."

Mitchell is only an option at inside linebacker, but does well in the role. A squatty, stout defender, Mitchell excels at playing the run and has occasionally shown promise in other areas. Starting 50 of 64 games, and a streak running from November 04 on, Mitchell is a curious choice for Carolina to possibly pursue.

With Na'il Diggs on board, the team already has a stocky player outside, and while Dan Morgan's inconsistent and relatively unlikely to make a half season's worth of games, Mitchell is a genuine starter and might not be looking to play second-fiddle to Morgan while waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Many moves, little time

  • Na'il Diggs has been re-signed, terms not disclosed.
  • Jordan Carstens, Michael Gaines, and Drew Carter were each given the second-round tender for restricted free agents, costing $1.3 million each.
  • No movement on the Jordan Gross, Julius Peppers contract changes, as of yet.
  • Safety Kevin McCadam, second on the team in special teams tackles, was released. Top of that list, Vinny Ciurciu, is a free agent. Special teams captain Karl Hankton, released yesterday, was third. Fourth, CB Richard Marshall, will have a reduced role as he enters 2007 as a likely starter.

The impact:

Diggs' re-signing is a positive in continuity, and at least keeps the team from relying entirely on second-year LB James Anderson to start. It also closes the door on trying to sign any level of playmaker, from Donnie Edwards to Cato June, on down to lesser prospects like Al Singleton or James Allen.

It may also mean that the team will look toward the draft for a middle linebacker, or will not add any youth at all to that part of the defense.

Special teams coverage was poor this past year, so the loss of so many coverage players isn't a bad thing. With Anderson expected to step up, Adam Seward and Nick Goings still aboard, and the team expected to add starting talent and depth at safety, the team will not suffer, and it would be hard not to improve.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The "John Fox Guy" - quickly becoming extinct

It possibly started with Ricky Proehl last year - the force that used to be "the John Fox guy" on the Carolina Panthers' roster is quickly dissipating.

Kris Mangum retired this week, and Karl Hankton was released today. Len Pasquarelli's mention of the Panthers' possible interest in FB Ovie Mughelli may foreshadow that Brad Hoover, a hometown favorite, may be relegated to being a backup.

Surviving the departed players are Jordan Carstens, recently tendered an RFA offer, and Nick Goings, signed to an extension months ago.

Rucker, Delhomme are staying; more decisions soon

Mike Rucker took an outright paycut to stay with the team, dropping a combined $2 million between bonuses and salary; Jake Delhomme renegotiated his deal to convert a roster bonus to signing bonus and moving some salary to signing bonus, saving the team $4 million.

The two moves have the team possibly under the cap as much as $9-11 million, on the eve of free agency, signaling the possibility the team makes some big moves. Carolina needs at least one safety, at least one linebacker, and possibly a tight end as immediate needs.

The team still needs to resolve the contract of Dan Morgan, but if they can't force him to retire, they can afford to take the negative cap situation of his contract now. Cutting Morgan, despite relieving the team of $2.5 million in bonuses and his 2007 salary, still costs the team more than that savings.

The Panthers could pay Morgan the bonus in a signing bonus format instead of roster bonus format (signing bonuses count prorated across the contract; roster bonuses count one year) and cut him in June, taking the full hit of his bonuses in 2008 instead; this move is hasty and unlikely.

It's been rumored in the past few days that, besides Morgan, the team is currently working with Julius Peppers on preliminaries toward a new deal; Chris Gamble, Deshaun Foster, Mike Minter, and Chris Weinke are possibly being negotiated with for cap relief, some of which may be forced by threat of eventual termination.

To this point, an overcrowded but underperforming offensive line has not been dealt with, nor is expected to be dealt with, other than talking to OT Jordan Gross. The team is talking to the player about converting a $5 million incentive clause into bonus, which would save the team $3.3 million. Gross is under contract through 2009 and there's not a great likelihood additional years will be added.