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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Muhammad "close"; Panthers Pay Too Much in RFA

The agent for Muhsin Muhammad has been talking up a connection with the Panthers for a few days now; the team hadn't responded until tonight. Marty Hurney's words of "getting a deal done in a day or two" are encouraging, and an early rumor of a 3 year deal at a modest salary is inspiring. Should be interesting to see what happens, but expect word after the team returns home from the Combine.

The veteran receiver, turning 35, knows it's time to get in and do some hard work for another run at a title. He's been a motive force on two teams' aspirations, and despite his 40 catch "slump" last year, he's still got plenty to give. His 14.3 yards/reception aren't what you expect of a "slow, aging" WR, and he can still get upfield or take a shorter pass for a solid gain. And, of course, he can still block.

RFA: An Annual Crutch

Geoff Hangartner will receive almost $1.5 million, and Evan Mathis $950,000, to presumably be backups. The pair of 2005 draftees, now Restricted Free Agents, were considered the backbone of a line resurgence when drafted together, and started 34 games in 2006-07.

Mathis accounts for 15 of those, all in 2006; he didn't dress but once in 2007. A fall from grace that included leaving former OL coach Mike Maser in his wake, Mathis hasn't fared better and in 2007 was unceremoniously pushed to backup tackle after once being considered the long term RG starter as a 3rd round pick. An unbelievably strong player in the upper body, Mathis doesn't seem to have put it all together and his one year starting was unspectacular. Some have criticized his lack of lower body strength and slender build for his problems drive blocking.

In that time, he often fought Hangartner for starts; Mathis was benched for Hangartner in 2006 but injuries pressed them to finish the season next to each other. Hangartner, who scored a 47 of 50 on the wonderlic, is a very smart and technique driven center, but lacks strength at times and doesn't get good leverage - giving him problems in behing pushed back after defenders get under his pads.

So - why is this bad? Line depth is a good thing, right?

Not at this price. The team traditionally hands out too much money in RFA, including putting a high tender on Michael Gaines (who they cut in camp) and Jordan Carstens (who couldn't make it to camp because of a non-football ailment he had before they offered him the contract) last year. Offering Mathis isn't the worst thing, he's solid depth. Hangartner at a higher offer, though, is ridiculous. With two other centers of starting caliber in camp, and possibly none of the three able to play guard well enough, the team just spent a lot of money to bring back what they had as opposed to finding improvement.

$2.3 million would find improvement, or give a shot at finding it. I don't believe Hangartner and Mathis, even pitted against each other, could solve it. Maybe if you could screw Hangartner's head on Mathis' body and give the monstrosity Steve Smith's demeanor, you'd have something. So why not try to find a player who can offer that instead?

Note to Panthers' brass - enough with the high tenders. That extra money might not be much to cap-easy teams like the Titans, but it's a lot to us.

There's a common, if not majority, feeling that the Panthers better not pay too much for Muhammad. He's aging, they say; he might not even start. Some suggest the vet minimum, some suggest that a potential price tag of $1.5 million, rumored at, is too much; some suggest he's not worth signing at all.

Here's the thing - if he's healthy, he's starting, and it's rare he's not healthy. With the team spending almost $1.5 million on a backup center, I have no idea how Muhammad's worth less. He'll prove to be worth much more.
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