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Friday, February 29, 2008

Jenkins Is Official; Visits; News; McCree

  • Kris Jenkins is officially gone. He's now a Jet, and we now have their 3rd (67th overall) and 5th round picks. Carolina is without their own 5th round pick, for Chris Harris. The team saves Jenkins' $3 mil salary and a $1 million bonus that would've been paid next week.
  • Jenkins signed a 5 year, $35 million deal this afternoon with the Jets, allowing the Jets to finalize the deal.
  • Rod Coleman was in camp today, as a potential replacement. It was mostly for a physical; Coleman left town without a contract, which likely means the team couldn't see eye to eye with him on a contract (probably under $2 mil a year) and he'll continue to test the market.
  • Larry Tripplett, a six year veteran DT that fits the team's style for rotation, is also available as of today.
  • says that, though the team has invested in Muhsin Muhamamd (contract value still undetermined, FWIW), they may be looking again. They mention Ernest Wilford, a favorite of mine in a hybrid role, who's already signed with the Dolphins. They also mention DJ Hackett, a fleet-footed slot type from Seattle.
  • A few internet blogs from local media types have noted that it's not likely that the team sign a free agent DE. It's possible they sign a Travis Laboy type player as a situational player; this gives them flexibility in the draft. However, the $8 million being asked by Justin Smith sets an awful precedent and the $7 mil per year Tommy Kelly got from the Raiders will only inflate the market.
  • Former Raider DE Tyler Brayton, a 3-4 end in Oakland, visited today, for reasons unknown. It's possible the team want a veteran that can be added to the mix, as a backup and possible run-downs specialist, while the team looks for a rush end in the draft to aid in making the pass defense better.


Marlon McCree will be in town this weekend. The former Carolina SS, in 2005, went to San Diego, famously picked off Tom Brady in the divisional game in 2006 and then fumbled the ball away, giving the Pats another chance at the win (which they generally capitalize on). Now, he may be facing a return to the team, with a player similar in ability to his own in Chris Harris; both players are compact but stout zone players with an affinity for hitting, aggressiveness, and occasional lapses in coverage.

However, don't forget McCree was a FS in Houston and the Panthers' safeties are roughly interchangeable. It won't ease my concerns about McCree not being good enough in coverage, or that we would inevitably be too prone to playaction, but it'd hopefully be a cheap addition to the team to take care of a big need. If the team locked down McCree, hopefully much cheaper than the mega-deals that Gibril Wilson and Madieu Williams just signed, their back 7 would be completely done (save a backup at FS).

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pre-FA: Wesley, Hoover are in; Jenkins Out, Coleman In?

With Muhammad in from the Bears, the Panthers added to re-signings by adding Dante Wesley back to the secondary. A 4th CB, Wesley was supposed to be a special teams ace before he got hurt and missed 2007; a 2002 4th round pick, Wesley had been a target of the Panthers since leaving for Chicago along with Muhammad. The pair are signed in addition to re-signing Travelle Wharton, Chris Harris, Damione Lewis, and their RFA/EFAs.

It's been a busy pre-FA period for the team. They finished it off with bringing back Brad Hoover this afternoon for three more years.

Further news abounded for the team from random sources, many of them landing on; included in this was an errant message about the Panthers possibly being interested in Randy Moss, and a statement about Kris Jenkins being heavily shopped.

Jenkins made the local news blogs the last few days, but it being picked up nationally as the Jets try to deal in trade has been interesting. The initial rumor involved LB Jon Vilma, certainly not a need here; it's not sure what the Jets might be offering now. The team is likely to want either picks, a rush specialist, or a guard/tackle. Or all.

The Jets hold the 36th pick in the draft, the second round. They have the 6th overall as well, and may use that to trade down; that'd make the 36 pick more expendable.

Further compounding this situation with Jenkins is that former Atlanta DT Rod Coleman is in town tonight. The 6'2, 297 lb one-gap tackle is a good fit for the team, and a solid choice to replace some of Jenkins' reps. Coleman had 6 sacks two years ago, and only 2 this past year on an awful Falcons team; still, he generates rush, and certainly is the other half of the coin at rush DT if we can land him.

My thoughts: I don't want rid of Jenkins. I don't think a Pro Bowl player, making $3 mil annually, even unhappy of it, is a big deal if he's not sitting out. He won't, and he'll play hard. He's not a distraction (yet, I guess) and he's a force. I don't think we can get enough out of a 2nd round pick to justify it, and if we get a 3rd we're just unloading him because he's unhappy.

But, it looks close to done. It looks like the team's going to work to get it done, and they've done fairly well in trades in this staff. If they can get starting reps out of Lewis, and rush reps out of Coleman, they're in solid shape; they'd probably add a run stopper or bring back Kindal Moorehead to fill out DTs and spend on an end to call free agency a day until a solid guard came along to help out the run game.

Speaking of which, don't doubt the presence of a defensive end or two in town in the next few days.

Muhammad Official: Carr Officially Gone

The Panthers made a major move toward adding confidence, leadership, and solidarity to the team by making two decsions - bringing back Muhsin Muhammad and finally releasing David Carr.

Carr, the lone free agent of the 2007 season, obviously didn't work out so well. Hapless fans, in preseason looking to drag Jake Delhomme to the bench, were openly booing Carr and even calling for his replacement, Matt Moore.

Instead of a player accustomed to failure and collapse, they get a former star turned roleplayer; a former malcontent turned captain. Muhammad, as the youngster, had some issues that kept him from getting ahead of guys like Mark Carrier and Willie Green; he was a backup for Carolina's first Playoff run. After playing the star, he settled into the captain and the roleplayer; he was the blocker, the teacher. Now, he returns for those roles and to contribute to another run into the playoffs.

And, so, as the 2007 free agent crop officially busts away, the 2008 season starts off with a bang adding Muhammad to a solid pre-FA re-signing class including Travelle Wharton and Damione Lewis. The team is retaining a solid core, to be aided by one or two major moves for bigtime players. They've already found one starter before the February 29 bell rings; they'll likely find another pair before March is through, with the expectation that the draft will bring at least one more.

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.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who's In, Who's Out

It's pretty clear at this point that the OL is going to be critical with this offseason. As they justify the decision to promote Deangelo Williams and release Mike Wahle (now a Seahawk) and Deshaun Foster (heavily courted by the Buccaneers), the makeup of the line is both a strong focus and certainly not a complete process.

So, with the linemen working out Saturday in Indianapolis and us watching, time to figure out what we know and what we don't.
  • John Fox doesn't feel that the line was the "biggest problem" last year, but there were things to improve upon.
  • The 2008 NFL draft is stocked with OT talent up high.
  • Jordan Gross isn't under contract, but as Franchise Player, he's likely limited to the team. He can negotiate with other teams, but he doesn't feel as if he's on the move. Realistically, no one would pay two first round picks for Gross, and that'll be a very deterring factor for anyone looking to sign the vet. With the draft market being as it is, two first round picks could get you two starting offensive tackles.
  • Under contract, in order of experience: Justin Hartwig, Travelle Wharton, Jeremy Bridges, Evan Mathis*, Geoff Hangartner*, Frank Omiyale, Ryan Kalil, Rueben Riley. *RFAs are starred since they're expected back, but aren't technically even tendered, much less signed.
  • Other than Kalil, Omiyale and Riley, every player above has started at least a season's worth of games and has been with the team two years. Kalil started three games.

Of the group signed, a few are in limbo.

  • Jeremy Bridges, a solid replacement OT in 2006, was re-signed and moved to G for 2007, drew a gun on a stripper during camp, and was suspended for two games; he struggled through the year and was benched late in the season. In theory, versatile; may work as a backup OT from here, but washed out as a guard.
  • Justin Hartwig, signed in 2006, missed almost the entire year; Started 15 games in 2007, but missed time with injury again. Didn't work out well at guard when they wanted to get Ryan Kalil on the field; his contract isn't too cumbersome, so if they could keep him it would work, but replacements Hangartner and Kalil are just as good at center. He's on the trade block, which means it's probable he'd get cut, money they could use on a guard.
  • Evan Mathis, a 3rd round pick in 2005, was supposed to be the RG for years. Pedigreed, strong, smart, he was expected to be blue chip; his 2006 season was supposed to be beneficial, but struggled through the year. He ended up playing backup OT in 2007 and rarely saw the field. As a RFA, he won't be expensive to keep, but is it worth it if they don't think he can do it?

So, if you negate the above three, we have Gross at one tackle spot, Wharton at a guard or a tackle, and that's about it. Kalil or Hangartner could be at guard, the other at center, or both could be playing guard if Hartwig does stay and Wharton is at tackle, and that's not an upgrade.

So coming into free agency, we're going to assume this:

LT: Gross

LG: Wharton

C: Kalil/Hangartner

RG: (open)

RT: (open)

Unless, of course, the team finds a LT worth starting; that puts him next to Wharton, with Gross staying on the right. That also has an advantage of pairing veterans together with newcomers, as opposed to a free agent next to a rookie.

What's on the market? Alan Faneca's expensive, we've done the aging G with tons of money. There's Jake Scott, the Idahoan LG who used to be a tackle, who made a living and a ring with the Colts, who would fit well in zone and money may be variable; Sean Locklear, former G and current OT for the Seahawks, signed with Seattle to stay, but his backup, Pork Chop Womack is available if the team wants a cheap upgrade (is he enough?); there's the very, very experienced Ruben Brown, or Larry Allen.

At OT, not much; you can overspend for a few years on Flozell Adams, but you really can't put as much as he'll need to sign. The draft will do just fine for an OT, with flavors ranging from nimble LTs (Chris Williams), versatile but raw swing OTs (Ryan Clady), to bulky but athletic RTs (Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Otah).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Local Blogger Proved Incorrect; Line Play

From last night's Charlotte Observer:

Though nothing is set, Fox said he's leaning toward moving Wharton from left
tackle to left guard and adding another tackle via free agency or the draft.
Gross can play left or right tackle, depending on which spot is better for
any newcomer who arrives.Fox said Wharton gives the Panthers great
flexibility, primarily as a guard, but also as a backup left tackle in the
event of an injury at that position.Even with the changes, Fox defended the
line's ability to excel.

Last week I stated, upon signing his contract, Travelle Wharton isn't a guard. I felt that people had focused so much on OT as a draft need, that it had passed them by in the greater scheme. But, that's incorrect now, and it appears that Wharton is now a guard. Will he be able to stand up DTs and push them back? That, to this point, is my biggest concern. If we need to pull linemen (which we don't do that often in the new scheme), he can do that; if he needs to get to the 2nd level, or reach a player in backside contain, he can. He was an effective drive blocker from LT in 2005; he wasn't an effective run blocker early in 2007.

It's hard to say where he'll be in 2008; he could still be at LT, he could find himself at RT. He could find himself next to Gross at guard, or on the other side of the line. At most, Fox's statement only left uncertainty, except to state he's leaning toward Wharton inside.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gross Tag Official; Crumpler, Muhammad Interest; Deshaun Foster Cut

First off, a brief moment of pause for Deshaun Foster, cut today. The team's all-time rushing leader (and, oddly, 8th in receiving yards), Foster burst onto the scene as a figurehead to the Run First campaign that John Fox and Dan Henning silently waged. After an impressive first run, an 85 yard TD in preseason, Foster was soon lost to injury; in 2003 he waged spot duty only to peak at his most impressive, a series of very good runs in the NFCCG and Super Bowl.

Another injury in 2004 lost another year; 2005 saw him peaking, again, at the end of a playoff run. Finally healthy in 2006 and 07, Foster rushed for 1773 yards after being named Transition Player by the team to keep him; the final year of a $15 million deal was too much to keep Foster, who by now has clearly lost burst and may not have much left to give. But, he gave all he had, and for the first time a John Fox team won't have Foster on board.

Somehow, Brad Hoover and Nick Goings continue to outlast other backs. Speaking of Goings, he may provide more assistance in 2008, but chances are the team will look for another veteran RB like Michael Pittman.

Veteran Receivers Wanted
Marty Hurney confirmed this week that the team would be interested in pursuing both Muhsin Muhammad and Alge Crumpler, though he phrased it to mean that they look into every available player.

Crumpler, meanwhile, is on his way to Indianapolis, to meet with teams during the NFL Combine. Teams have their medical staffs there this week, their scouts there, and their coaches. He is expected to be thoroughly checked out physically, and may work out with a QB or two if needed, but his play isn't the questionable part. The knee, scoped in early 2007, gave him problems during the season, and if it requires more surgery a deal would be risky. He's supposedly received interest from 11 teams; one of the first teams he mentioned in discussion with the media was Carolina, but as of yet Marty Hurney denies contact.

It's unsure as to whether the team would pursue both players to sign; one school of thought is that they will sign whichever comes first; if it's Crumpler, they'll pursue a speedier WR on the premise that both would be too much of a hit to team speed. Or, there's the thought that they somewhat duplicate the same general effort, as a posession type player, so getting Muhammad first would imply staying put at TE or getting a blocking TE.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Combine Upcoming: Importance; Muhammad Available

Besides the obvious - the scouting, the meetings, and the agent tampering - that goes on at the combine, it's also where Panthers staff will be all week.

What's that mean? Besides the point Darin Gantt brought up in his blog - that the team, unable to touch Alge Crumpler before today, will be out of town and can't medically clear him (which keeps them from putting out an offer early this week) - is that most likely other free agent deals will be on hold.

So, while guys like Mike Rucker and Brad Hoover, eager to make something happen before Feb. 29th, will still have time. But Jordan Gross won't. The Panthers have to tag Gross as their franchise player (or, in a twist, could name him transition player and save money, but at higher risk) by the 21st, and it's unlikely a deal will happen during combine. So, the team may as well tag Gross now. After combine, the team will try to put together cheap deals for Hoover, Rucker (assumedly, anyway), and will also focus on Crumpler.

Muhsin Muhammad Available
Remember Carolina's first real receiver, Muhsin Muhammad? It's hard not to; he made the pro bowl in two different decades, the only Panther other than Michael Bates and Wesley Walls to do so; he's still the team's career receptions, yards, receiving TDs*, and 100-yd games leader, though Steve Smith is catching him fast.

And, he was cut by Chicago. So, what's he been doing since his last Pro Bowl?

He led the team to a playoff berth in 2005, and a Super Bowl in 2006. He played with current Panther Chris Harris, and former Panther Ricky Manning, Jr. More importantly - he had 64 receptions, 750 yards, and 4 TD in 2005; he had 60 receptions, 863 yd, 5 TD in 2006; in 2007, his stats took a slide, going down to 40 receptions, 570 yards, 3 TD.

So, does he have anything left? His yards/catch haven't gone down, but his receptions did; Bernard Berrian had 30 more catches, to become the leading receiver, and outlets took away others. RB Adrian Peterson took 2nd place on the team, Desmond Clark 3rd from TE: 2nd TE and first round pick Greg Olson was 5th, behind Muhammad.

He hasn't had injuries, he still makes the tough catches, he's still a leader on the field and in the locker room; he's an ideal guy to mentor the very-simiarly-talented Dwayne Jarrett. The only thing to watch - how much time he has left, and how much it could take away from Steve Smith. MM is ideal for SS in that he's taken the 2nd spot for Smith before; however, since Muhammad's exit, Smith's become a captain. Another veteran receiver, like Marty Booker or Ernest Wilford, can be a strong supporting player without being that past captain. Still, it's a minor concern, and Muhammad looks to have at least a few years left.

*Smith is actually the team's career scoring champion for non-kickers - with 45 TDs, rushing, receiving, and returning, he beats Muhammad and Walls, who each had 44 receiving; Muhammad had also caught 2 2-pt conversions.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Travelle Wharton Not Likely A Guard; Crumpler?

A lot of the local news media blogs are blogging the same thing (after all, they're tied at the hip). But let's be honest - Travelle Wharton isn't a guard, and they're not likely going to spend $6 million just to move him to a lesser position. The contract he signed is indicative of nothing - the guards last year got a full million more, in the open market. The ceiling for tackles isn't set yet (and believe me, Jordan Gross will inexplicably set it).

But, the guard fodder is just that. It's just noise, indicative of nothing. The team drafted Wharton as a tackle, it kept him from playing guard as long as it could in 2004, and did so out of necessity after playing a total of four other linemen there. They immediately moved him back to tackle, and kept him there. There's no reason to suggest otherwise right now.

And while it doesn't keep the team from taking a tackle, certainly once they're done shelling out an estimated 85-90 million between two linemen, I don't believe they're going to do anything else drastic at tackle. I believe they're making these moves to make sure tackle is stable, while the market is low, so they can make waves at offensive skill and draft defensive impact.

And, to be honest, Wharton lacks the push to be a consistent guard against big DTs. He's never been huge, he's never been a guy who can push the pile inside, and he's always relied on athleticism over brute force. He's relatively opposite what we need at left guard. Yet the biggest buzz over Wharton, cluelessly, is at guard as if the media and fanbase has locked into drafting a tackle so much that other options are unnecessary.

Also: Sign Alge Crumpler. ASAP.

The former Falcon, cut today, had some minor knee issues, sure. He also had a string of Pro Bowls and killer plays against us. We have nothing but youth at TE, and a relative lack of skill; some have criticized Crumpler's blocking, but he was good enough to stay on the field without a requisite replacement or addition, while the team led the league in rushing for 2004-2006, and he led each of those teams in receptions.

A valid criticism is that he's been a vocal complainer, a bit in 2006 and certainly in 2007.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

OT, Other Re-signings: Impact on 2008 Offseason

With tackle Travelle Wharton signed, and the impending signing of Jordan Gross, the team will have to find another way to toughen up inside, if they intend to do so. It also means the most likely way the team can make an impact in free agency is on the defensive side of the ball. In both situations, their options are fleeting and expensive.

The team has set out to improve the running game, which improved to 14th overall but lacked consistent pop in games that quickly got out of hand, but it'll do it with a lot of pieces intact, with both tackles likely returning. As well, the team will likely return center Justin Hartwig; they receive a net loss by cutting him in 2008, unless it's after June 1; the team could've used one of its two June 1 exemptions on Hartwig and chose to use it on Mike Wahle.

So, with Ryan Kalil being a much-improved piece at the end of 2007, is he or Hartwig the center? Will one play left guard? If so, right guard, vacated by the still-under-contract Jeremy Bridges when he was benched at the end of the year, may be the only available upgrade. That's assuming the team doesn't stick Geoff Hangartner in; Hangartner, a starter all of 2006 at center, is RFA and likely to stay, but for all of his steady, smart play, he's underpowered and won't deliver the punch needed.

The team may pop for a bigger player like Alan Faneca, but there's only one of him to go around and the league wants him as a whole. Past that there's two Colt guards (the underpowered Jake Scott and his unheralded teammate Ryan Lilja, both of which would be smarter to stay, but might make an OK contribution in the zone scheme), two highly aged former Pro Bowlers (Larry Allen, Ruben Brown), an all-nickname backup (Pork Chop Womack, occasional starter for the Seahawks), and the guy he occasionally replaced (touted, but troubled, former NCSU star Sean Locklear).

Unless the team makes a drastic subtraction to the defensive line - trading Julius Peppers or Kris Jenkins, for instance, or cutting Ma'ake Kemoeatu - the team doesn't have a lot of options to move, so it'll probably move quickly. The DT trio of Jenkins, Kemoeatu, and Lewis seems to want to stay intact; if not, they could use Lewis as a starter and leverage the cap space and/or collateral to help buy an end. It may not need to do so, and may just try to buy an end outright.

But who? With Terrell Suggs and Jared Allen franchised, the team may have a move with the Bengals' Justin Smith, who struggled in 2007 during his franchise tag year (41 sacks in his 2001-06 seasons; 2 in 2007), but that may be risky; one-year wonder, Titan DE Antwan Odom, had 8 sacks from nowhere last year; Bears DE Alex Brown is unhappy and could be had for a second day pick; other than that, the market is low, expensive, and DE Mike Rucker actually looks like a good value pick in the market.

The problem is, Rucker won't improve the pass rush, and the team desperately needs some edge rush. To complicate things, DE may be the team's best bet in the draft, too; a draftee would likely cost less than a free agent.

With Lewis, Harris, and the two OTs wrapped up, the team has a lot of its higher profile free agents under wraps (assuming Gross does get in, of course), which does help promote the idea of splurging on one high-impact, tough, line-strengthening free agent, and makes other needs less critical.

Wharton Gets Valentine's Love; Harris Extended

Impending Free Agent Travelle Wharton, a native South Carolinian and Gamecock, is apparently now a career Panther. The 2004 3rd round pick signed a 6 year deal reported to be in the $34-37 million range, with a $12 million bonus.

The move locks up the cheaper tackle, in theory; Jordan Gross, the other tackle, at the traditionally less valued right tackle spot, has been in negotiation for a long term deal as well; Gross opted out of the final two years of his 2003 deal to make him a 2008 free agent, but the team intends to place the franchise tag on him if they cannot reach a deal with him before February 21.

Wharton was lost for the 2006 season with a knee injury after a promising rookie campaign at guard and starting the entire 2005 season at left tackle; his 2007 campaign started out roughly, giving up 8 sacks in the first ten games, but settled down to give up one in the final six. The new deal is expected to cost the team a 2008 cap hit of around $2.33 million, assuming an $8 mil initial bonus, a 2nd year $4 million convertable bonus, and a first year salary of $1 million.

Safety Chris Harris was extended yesterday, in a move that will return the defense's hardest hitter for four more years. Harris, signed through 2008, would've been a free agent after the year, but signed a deal expected to be around 4 years, $14 million and placing the safety on board through 2012. It was expected that the team would add years to his deal if he excelled, as part of the trade that brought him from the Chicago Bears. Harris responded with 102 tackles, second on the team; 8 FF, which led the league; 3 fumble recoveries, 1 INT, and 5 defended passes.

The move lends some longevity to the position for the first time since Mike Minter, the player Harris replaced. Minter saw, from 2004-2006, nine different safeties vying to be the replacement to Deon Grant. The position is still vacant, but without Harris, the secondary would have a much larger hole.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Deadline Looms; June 1st Exemptions and Who's Safe

The deadline to franchise Jordan Gross is February 21 - the team is working toward a deal and hopes to get something done before then. If not, Gross is going to be tagged, a $7.4 mil
exemption that Gross and most players don't want to receive. As well, it would lock Gross in as the team's franchise player - a title that doesn't change until he leaves or retires. There's plenty of incentive to get a deal done quickly, including getting his deal done before prices rise again, but if the team doesn't get it done by the 21st, they still have until the 29th for free agency.

A new facet of the new CBA included letting teams designate a few players as June 1st exemptions. As the old CBA stood, signing bonuses counted across the length of the contract and the prorated amounts accelerated to the cap on the year of a cut. On June 1, the remaining proration went to the next year's cap, allowing teams to cut players whose proration was larger than the year could allow. The new CBA allows teams to cut a few players of this sort at the onset of the new fiscal year, and Dan Morgan and Mike Wahle were two examples of that.

What's this mean for the team? Any other likely cuts probably would've come, if possible, are probably safe. Many of the remaining bigtime cuts are going to be on players with one year left on their deals (proration has already been applied), such as Deshaun Foster, David Carr.

So, if you're Ken Lucas, Justin Hartwig, or Maake Kemoeatu, you can probably plan on keeping your job another year. If you were going to be cut, it would've probably just happened.

Lewis Extended; Morgan, Wahle Cut

Damione Lewis was extended before the start of free agency, and a pair of high profile 2005 signings have been cut - Dan Morgan and Mike Wahle - in a move expected to clear more than $6 million.

Lewis was signed to a reported 3 year, $14 million deal this weekend, though official numbers haven't been reported; it's expected that the deal includes a 2008 signing bonus around $4 million, a 2009 roster bonus around $2 million that will likely be rolled into a signing bonus, and a high salary year in 2010. The signing has gained buzz toward the idea that the Panthers will cut Maake Kemoeatu or trade Kris Jenkins, though the move also may simply mean the team will attempt to keep a productive set of defensive tackles (yeah, including Kemoeatu, who helped the team toward finishing 4th in yards/attempt) so they can concentrate on end.

Morgan, a storied draft pick out of Miami, stood for many things in his career - he was, at first, the guy who'd turn it around for both the Panthers' luck in the draft and the figurehead of the offense from 2001 on; after the Seifert regime failed, he was looked upon as the guy who would carry the John Fox defense to respectability; after that, he was simply a guy who the team hoped could stay on the field. A shining moment in the Panthers' Super Bowl run aside, the team hasn't received much for their effort. After 2004, Morgan's Pro Bowl year, the team chose to sign him in the 2005 offseason ahead of fellow LB Will Witherspoon, who would up leaving for St. Louis; since, Morgan only chipped in 11 games in 2005, and a total of 4 in 06-07. The emergence of fellow Hurricane Jon Beason as middle linebacker sealed the deal, and Morgan's presence was no longer needed.

Wahle was to be the offensive line's counterpart to Morgan; his 2005 signing was supposed to bring better pass blocking, a better sweep game, and room to run inside. A massive deal of 5 years, $30 million, Wahle was originally thought to be a tackle here, but was always sold as a left guard; this is where he played. Solid play, and a 2005 Pro Bowl, worked out for the Panthers, but rushing struggled in 2006 and 2007, as well as injury in each year, took its toll. The 30 year old guard looks now to be a part of another line revamp, this time as the financing.

Wahle's cut clears $4.1 million - since his deal ran through 2009, only the 2009 proration counts against 2009, since the team set him aside as a June-style cut. The Morgan move clears $3.35 million if it's done the same - if not, it would save about $2.1 million.

As another possible move, the Panthers' top media outlets are buzzing about a possible Deshaun Foster cut, which certainly seems to be a looming possibility. Fans clamoring for a David Carr cut are expectant of a move there as well.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Cap Space Looking Up

A death in the family and a trip to Florida related to the aforementioned loss will be coming up, so it's time to get some thoughts out while they're still here.

Cap issues looked somewhat bleak, and completely related to the Julius Peppers situation (since that somehow finds its way into every facet lately), but we're not going to be so encumbered and further cuts will give us flexibility.

Also a quick coaching update in Atlanta:
It oughta be interesting having a pair of former coaches in the division - Bill Musgrave and Paul Boudreau - together. Musgrave, former QBs coach and OC for Carolina (1999, 4 games of 2000), never coached with Boudreau (2001-02), but both carry knowledge of the team; more importantly the guy who oversaw Boudreau and succeeded Musgrave, Richard Williamson, knows them. Boudreau joins Musgrave under Mike Mularkey and new head coach Mike Smith. Smith has put together a solid staff, but Smith himself I'm not that impressed with.