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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Two New Guards

In a slow week, the Panthers signed two large guards, one with a storied but rollercoaster playing history, but both with starting experience.

Tonui Fonoti (6'5, 330-350), a 26 year old Hawaii native of Samoan descent, was a 2nd round (39th overall) pick in the 2002 draft by the Chargers. A Sports Illustrated (i.e. unofficial) All-Pro in 2004, he was traded to the Vikings in 2005 and put on IR after two games. Fonoti washed out as a Buccaneer in camp in 2006, and played in six games for the Dolphins; Fonoti was released again in camp after being picked up by the Falcons. He started 33 of 40 contests, with most of them coming in the first three years.

Fonoti, by all regards, had eaten his way out of the league. A recent statement by Darin Gantt of the Rock Hill Herald states: "According to multiple sources around the team who've seen him, he's closer to 330 now, in what one teammate referred to as "great shape." It's solid news for a guy who had been rumored to have played at 390 last year (which likely means having come into camp over 400 lbs), but having been in 5 locker rooms in three years isn't a good sign. That's most likely why he's fighting for a job as opposed to having one.

Milford Brown (6'5, 325) is a 27 year old guard originally of the Texans (6th round supplemental draft, 2002, out of Florida State). A 43 game starter over the last six years, Brown started 12 of 13 for the Texans in 2005 in a contract year, then signed with the Cardinals in 2006 starting 12 of 13 again. As a Ram in 2007, Brown stated 15 of 16. In all, Brown had given up 10 sacks and 8 holding penalties in his time as a starter prior to 2007.

Fonoti was assigned #66. Brown takes #61.

My initial assumption was that the team would inevitably move on a DT in the next few weeks, and they may. The guards signings, especially two, are welcome but somewhat surprising. The team has determined itself to take a more active role in run blocking, and is starting with some widebody guys to play RG (and possibly goal-line TE).

Initially, this pairing would suggest a move for the Panthers to not draft an OT at 13. While it does continue to allow the flexibility (and Travelle Wharton would certainly still be a fine OT), the move certainly doesn't preclude the team from continuing to use Wharton at guard. The three new guards - Kendrick Vincent, Fonoti, and Brown - are all sizeable, averaging 6'5, 330. These are all competition players for the RG position, not for Wharton's expected LG position.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Gross Signs Tender

Jordan Gross, who made a good-faith gesture to be present at offseason workouts, has signed his Franchise tender, guaranteeing him $7.455 million this year and giving the team no rights (other than the franchise tag again) in 2009, a year when Julius Peppers is also a free agent. The tag, in 2009, would cost either $8.946 million or the top 5 average salaries of 2008 for offensive linemen, whichever is greater.

The Panthers will continue to work on a deal with Gross, but probably won't get serious about doing so again until closer to training camp. The team has consistently signed extension deals either in the days leading to free agency (January, February) or concentrates on them most during the days around and directly after draft picks sign (generally, rookies sign within a week of the opening of training camp).

Oddly enough, I've stated on this space for a year now that the team would wait to lock up Julius Peppers before they would put attention into Gross' deal; now, of course, it appears that Gross is the long term option and that they'll get a deal into him first. Doing so would also allow two things - give Peppers a year to respond to a down year in 2007, and give the franchise tag back for use on Peppers if necessary (which buys even more time, if necessary).

The team does also need to consider a long term deal for Thomas Davis, a rare talent at SLB that is currently playing with two years left on a contract. Getting him under contract long term quickly takes care of LB for a long time (Jon Beason is obviously still very early in a rookie deal) and gets Davis in at a rate before he becomes a star. As the deal for Landon Johnson showed, the LB market isn't a hefty market anyway, so locking him up long term wouldn't likely be more than $4 million a year (still a very good raise for Davis, and very economical considering what defenders will cost in 2010).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holt Signed; DTs

Carolina signed safety Terrence Holt this week, bringing the Gibsonville native and NC State star back to North Carolina. A disappointment in Arizona, the 6'2, 205 lb safety had signed a $15 million, 5 year deal that they rescinded after the year, had 70 tackles but no INTs or defended passes. The two years prior, with the Lions in a less aggressive scheme, Holt had a total of 5 interceptions and has a total of 8 career INT. Holt, as a veteran of 43 starts and 69 games, has been a durable safety in zone and has a solid chance at starting at FS despite being considered a more stable candidate at SS. He has enough range, and reacts to the ball well enough in the air.

Holt will wear #42. In other jersey-related news, ace special teamer Donte' Curry has assumed #55 from now-released Dan Morgan. Landon Johnson has #94 after the signing of Kyndal Moorehead to Atlanta; it's expected that Johnson will look to move back to the 50s if a special teamer gets cut; the team is out of numbers in the 50s except for the obvious 51, which is unofficially retired.

DTs Still Available
One-gap defensive tackles are still available in free agency, and it seems most teams are in a holding pattern before the draft. The problem? The available players are backups. Further muddying the situation is Rod Coleman's health - the aging DT isn't considered ready to play yet, but is very highly sought overall. So, at some point, teams will want a shot at him, and won't waste a signing of Ian Scott to miss out.

So will Carolina make a move? Scott, Larry Triplett, and Darwin Walker - all of which, including Coleman, have spoken with Carolina - don't seem to have much market, and the team really only has two defensive tackles right now. The team could use Scott or Triplett situationally as run-stoppers, Coleman or Walker as a rusher. They have some room, so it's just a waiting game at this point.

The draft may be the reason to wait - teams looking at the first day see some solid options. If you can't get a first day DT (remember the first day is only two rounds now)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hackett Signed

The Panthers pulled in WR DJ Hackett with a two year, $3.5 million deal. The 6'2, 205 lb Hackett will compete with Muhsin Muhammad for the flanker job; Hackett will wear the #18 vacated by Drew Carter (now with the Raiders).

Some suggest Hackett has been promised the starting job, and that Muhammad will be only a slot receiver; I think it's more likely that the team uses Muhammad at times on run downs, and gets situationally replaced by Hackett, and both play in the spread a good deal. It's as likely that whoever starts will be used as often as the other; it's also certainly possible that the team use Hackett in the slot most of the time, being more suited to the role than Muhammad, regardless of which player starts.

Another option, of course, is to split the difference and use Smith at the slot instead of isolating him at split end every down. At any rate, the move (assuming Hackett can be healthy) is a clear upgrade from the inconsistent and underpowered pair of Carter and Keary Colbert that helped plague the passing game last year. And since Hackett signed for $1.75 million a year, and Muhammad not likely for more than that, the team certainly did a lot better than to have signed Bernard Berrian ($7 million annually after one good year), Javon Walker ($6 million annually and injured), or even Colbert ($2.75 mil after having not caught a TD pass since 2005). The team set out to upgrade, and did so with two potent players that won't cost the moon.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

DJ Hackett; John Wade; David Carr

DJ Hackett visits the team Friday, in a bit of a surprise move. The Panthers had stated a line of having DWI Jarrett...err, Dwayne Jarrett...starting; then Muhsin Muhammad was signed. Now, they're after Hackett, a part time starter for the Seahawks and extraordinary slot player in a spread offense.

It's hard to say who would start of the two - chances are greater, of course, that both get individual time next to Steve Smith, but the implied #2 receiver would be a more hazy situation. Muhammad starts every game up to this point; Hackett has always been potential, without results.

Uncorobborated rumors have former Bucs center John Wade visiting the Panthers soon.

Drew Carter signed an undisclosed contract with the Raiders; David Carr signed a $1 mil, 1 year deal to be a backup with the Giants.

Personally, I wouldn't be at all unhappy with Jared Lorenzen as our primary backup, with Matt Moore fighting it out with him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hartwig Cut; Jarrett DUI

This morning around 3 am, Dwayne Jarrett was arrested on suspicion of DWI in Mint Hill.

There's always the chance that this "turns him around", gets that USC attitude off him and makes him go to work knowing his livelihood's on the line as opposed

Justin Hartwig was cut this afternoon. The heralded signing, just another 2006 idea gone to hell at this point, came in as the "ultimate center" - a big, tough, durable pivot to upgrade from the "weak and old" Jeff Mitchell. He proved to be less than durable, and when we added Ryan Kalil, he resisted a move to guard despite being a good candidate.

So, now he's gone. I wish I knew what the plan was, at guard; hopefully, it's Wharton at LG, and a veteran competition at RG. I really wouldn't want to see Bridges (speaking of both legal trouble and being an awful guard) and Vincent fight for that job, we don't get better by moving Wharton inside and becoming less talented everywhere else.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Toefield, Jackson: FA Reaches Lukewarm

The Panthers signed LaBrandon Toefield, RB from the Jaguars, and Landon Johnson, LB from the Bengals, in a pair of signings designed to limit their draft needs and improve their veteran profile. Johnson signed a 3 year, $10 million deal; Toefield signed a one year, $640,000 deal.

Johnson (6'2, 232) was the Bengals' weakside and middle linebacker the last few years, moving around due to injury; he himself was healthy, stable, and solid for the Bengals, leading them in tackles three of four years. A 3rd round pick in 2004 from Purdue, the versatile and rangy Johnson will move back to WLB for the Panthers, and will expect to battle Na'il Diggs for the start. At this point, it's a fair ideal to expect Johnson to start at WLB, where he seems a natural upgrade from Diggs and a more stable choice than the oft-injured Diggs; it also adds speed to the lineup.

Diggs actually had a solid 2007; he was sent to the quarterback more, netting 3.5 sacks after 0 in 2006; a downside to the move is that the Panthers don't get any heavier up front, where they're already losing Kris Jenkins (a reported 390 lbs last year) and now downgrade a bit in height and size to Johnson at WLB. As well, it shows a bit of a lack of confidence in James Anderson, 2006 3rd round pick, to take over the job.

Toefield signed to be the Panthers' likely 2nd back after being stuck behind Pro Bowler Fred Taylor and phenom Maurice Jones-Drew. At 5'11, 235, he's the physical presence that the team's looking to change pace from Deangelo Williams; however, he hasn't been a healthy pro often and had injury concerns in college. Nonetheless, he's a quality back when healthy and adds a solid 2nd RB to keep the team from needing to spend a first or second round pick on a back: something Panther fans have seemed to grow toward feeling was a need despite issues on the lines.

Numerology Update: Numbers for Toefield and Jackson aren't up to date yet. Tyler Brayton was issued 96, and Nate Salley has changed to 25 from 33, though since I haven't seen Salley on the field in a year it's hard to remember if that is a recent change.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Landon Johnson; Adam Seward; Panthers SIgn Elsewhere

Adam Seward is expected to visit the New England Patriots this weekend. The restricted free agent has the option of signing an offer sheet with the Pats, and the Panthers would have seven days to match. If they didn't, the Patriots would owe the Panthers a 5th round pick. Seward has been an excellent special teamer and backup LB, but has battled injuries in his three years with Carolina.

Possibly anticipating the move, the Panthers brought in LB Landon Johnson, a Bengal that's certainly more than a backup. A former 3rd round pick from Purdue. As a Bengal, he started 53 of 64 games; he led the Bengals in tackles three out of four years totaling no less than 86 tackles and finishing with 142 in 2007.

A 6'3, 232 lb linebacker, Johnson has played weakside and middle linebacker, and would likely supplant Na'il Diggs or compete with him for the start. A market high on beef, the LB market has been mediocre and a good value for the buying team; the Panthers may see a player who can play inside like Beason but can play outside; Johnson is a better range player than Diggs.

Panthers Sign Across The League

Dan Morgan signed with the Saints; Kindal Moorehead is expected to sign with the Falcons. Keary Colbert, earlier in the week, signed with the Broncos for 3 years, $7.2 million.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brayton In; Vincent In, Other Visits

Carolina signed DE Tyler Brayton (6'6, 280), a former first round pick, and G Keydrick Vincent (6'5, 325), to short term veteran deals this week, adding depth to two areas the team needs to improve upon.

Brayton, at times a 3-4 OLB, sometimes an end, sometimes a 4-3 end, was a late first round pick for the Raiders, where he had 6 sacks and an INT in his first three years, tailing off to nothing for the last two. A situational end, he'll probably play the run while the young ends (and assuming another pick) play the pass.

His three most memorable situations weren't positive plays on the field:
  • He was drafted with the pick received for Jon Gruden from the Buccaneers
  • He kneed Jerramy Stevens in the nuts on national television during a game
  • He openly questioned Randy Moss' heart during a game, prompting Moss to utter the phrases "I play when I want to" and "Randy Moss don't go over the middle".

Vincent, a 49 game starter in his career, played for Arizona last year. A 12 game starter for the Ravens in 2006, he was cut in preseason and was behind the curve for AZ all year; he played in 16 games due to injury for Pittsburgh, having been a Steeler from 2001-04. A widebody guard, Vincent has veteran experience and could step up and start at guard if needed; since he was a Cardinal last year, he draws comparisons to Jeremy Bridges, but without reason. Both are former guards who spent time in AZ, and that's about it. All signs point to Vincent being a solid guard at a great price; Bridges is an unfocused lineman who may be a better tackle but not good enough to start. As of right now, the smart money appears that Vincent will start the year at right guard and would face competition from Justin Hartwig for first string.

OT Barry Sims, another former Raider, was in town this week, being wooed by the Panthers. They were offering a one year deal, and Sims expects a 3 year. A former starter, Sims may be looking for a similar role; the Panthers are likely looking for a mentor to a young draft pick.

DT Ian Scott, former Bear and Eagle lineman, was in town this week as well; Scott (6'3, 300) is a rotation player who can play the run in a one-gap system. He would likely pair with a young pass-rusher from the draft as the Panthers' depth at DT.

Vincent was issued #68; Colclough wears 22; the other players haven't been issued numbers yet. Muhsin Muhammad, as has been reported, regains #87; Jeff King currently wears #47 (last worn by Thomas Davis when he was a safety) despite there being openings at #s 82-85.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

FA update: and a Moss twist

NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports the Panthers will bring free agent Randy Moss in for a visit.

Yeah, I don't get it either.

But, we might go there. Somehow. I don't see us being able to afford an instant Pro Bowler, across from another Pro Bowler. I don't know if he'd be happy with this offense, considering it's Pats-derivative but not run as dynamically; I don't know if he'd be happy with Jake Delhomme if not healthy; no one else is big-league enough to get him the ball.

It's a big-league move, though, in a make-or break year. Essentially, it would make Smitty the focus of the offense, Moss would be the big play guy, and Muhammad would be that "very good 3rd receiver" he mentioned possibly being necessity in his signing press release. We certainly couldn't have much excuse for improving offensively, but with Jake tender-armed and John Fox being a conservative coach, would Moss last a year?

Moss has been floundering since he hit free agency; he's negotiated with the Patriots, talked with the Packers and a few other teams; he's reportedly "close to signing" with the Pats again, per a few rumor sites, but apparently not close enough. I don't expect this to happen at all, but it's interesting we did get mentioned.

In other notes, the Panthers signed Ricardo Colclough to a 2 year, $4 million deal that has heads shaking; it's likely a one year, minimum deal with most of the money on the back end, so it's not catastrophic, but it's interesting how the team felt the need to capture him early and at this price. Colclough is all potential; he's not played since 2005, but he can return punts and kicks as well.

Marlon McCree's been mentioned with the Panthers since his Chargers' cut; however, McCree hasn't visited and apparently won't right off.

The NFL Network also reports the Panthers are interested in former Dallas RB Julius Jones. Jones' YPC dipped in 2007, and he got used less and less; whether that was Marion Barber or Jones is hard to say. Jones, however, does everything fairly well and would be a solid backup to Deangelo Williams.