March 27, 2015

Did Panthers drop the Ball?

The Alan Ball-to-Carolina deal wasn't done after all.

A week after the free agent cornerback visited the Panthers -- and a couple of media outlets reported he had signed with Carolina or was about to -- Ball signed a one-year deal with Chicago on Friday, the Bears announced.

League sources told the Observer last week the two sides had discussed contract parameters for a one-year deal worth $2 million, with $1 million guaranteed.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman indicated at the owners meeting that Ball and free agent wideout Greg Jennings, who also visited Carolina last week, wanted to make sure the Panthers were a good fit.

"Think about it this way, Alan's a 29-year-old veteran. Greg Jennings is 32. They don't want to become gypsies. Both of those guys are married. They're grounded, good people," Gettleman said in Phoenix.

"For both of them, the fit is really important. So we kicked the tires on each other, that's what we did."

Ball grew up in Michigan and played collegiately at Illinois. It sounds like it was mostly a case of him returning to his Midwestern roots.

“I’m excited,” Ball told the Bears' web site. “I’m honored actually. Being in Detroit growing up, watching the Bears my whole life, going to the University of Illinois, I’m honored to be here.”

The prevailing thought was by signing Ball, the Panthers could move second-year corner Bene' Benwikere to nickel back full-time.

And while playing inside against a slot receiver might be Benwikere's best position, Gettleman said Benwikere has shown he has the speed to match up with receivers on the outside, as well.

"People get caught up in 40-yard dash times. We evaluate guys based on play speed. And the proof's in the pudding," said Gettleman. "He has the play speed to be outside. But it's a competition and the best guy plays. Obviously, we know he can play the nickel and he's good at it."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 27, 2015 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

March 23, 2015

Panthers awarded two compensatory picks

PHOENIX -- The Panthers picked up a pair of compensatory picks Monday -- a fifth-rounder and a sixth-rounder -- in the NFL's annual awarding of draft picks for free agents gained and lost.

With the two compensatory picks, the Panthers have a total of nine selections in the draft, which is April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.

The NFL determines compensatory picks based on a formula that weighs the salary, playing time and postseason honors for free agents teams acquired and lost the previous offseason.

The Panthers lost receivers Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. (since re-acquired) and Domenik Hixon and defensive backs Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn.

They signed cornerback Antoine Cason, receiver Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Ed Dickson.

All-time leading receiver Steve Smith signed with Baltimore after the Panthers cut him, so he did not factor into the comp pick formula.

Three times the Panthers have received three comp picks, most recently in 2011. They have been awarded a total of 16 in their history.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2015 at 09:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 19, 2015

Jones: A look at Gurley's potential fit with Panthers

Todd Gurley is in Charlotte visiting with the Panthers today, making the former Georgia tailback one of the first visits Carolina has had this draft season.

A Tarboro native, Gurley called the Panthers a “great organization” after UGA’s pro day Wednesday. Carolina gets 30 in-house visits, so Gurley isn’t the first, last or only player the team will talk to. Could he be the pick for Carolina at No. 25 in April’s draft?

Gurley the player: He was second-team All-SEC as a freshman running back, which is almost unheard of, after rushing for 1,385 yards. In 2013 he had 989 yards after missing three games with an ankle injury. And last season, despite missing seven games (more on that later), he still had 911 rushing yards.

Last year’s season opener against Clemson proved Gurley was the best running back in the nation. He had 198 yards on just 15 carries while scoring three times. His speed and power are unmatched in this draft class, and really any of the recent drafts as well.

 

He may still be the top running back taken in the draft, but he may not be due to…

Injury history: Along with the ankle in 2013, Gurley tore his ACL against Auburn in November. Gurley told reporters Wednesday he plans to be healthy and ready to perform at an NFL minicamp in June.

That timeline may be a bit optimistic. On the low end, ACLs usually take eight months to recover from. If a team spends a first-round pick on Gurley, they’d likely tell him to take June off, rehab, and be ready to go for training camp in late July and early August.

He did not allow doctors to examine his knee at the combine. When teams, like Carolina, bring in a player for an in-house visit, they can do medical exams on players.

No doubt if Carolina is serious about Gurley, his knee will be examined and re-examined.

Character concerns: The NCAA suspended Gurley for four games mid-season last year for accepting $3,000 in exchange for signing memorabilia. While that gets you suspended in college, the NFL cares not about that.

What’s it say that a young man was trying to profit, as he should, from his celebrity? It means he’s doing what every student-athlete should be able to do. As for the counterargument of “he put his team in jeopardy for being selfish”? This instance doesn’t translate to the professional level. Also, read up on how Gurley was found out because of a spurned Florida fan.

Gurley’s fit in Carolina: The Panthers just released their all-time leading rusher, leaving them with Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker as their top-two backs. Stewart and Whittaker have both dealt with injuries throughout their career, and the Panthers have shown their willing to take a running back in the draft after selecting Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round last year.

Stewart and Gurley both possess a speed-power blend, so putting them together in 2015 may not make sense. But what about the future? Stewart carries a cap hit of $9.5 million and $8.2 million in 2016 and 2017, much more than what Gurley would be on a rookie deal.

The big question is: will Gurley even be available at 25? Before the ACL tear he was the best running back in the draft, and in my estimation he still is. Yes, taking a 20-year-old with a repaired knee with a first-round pick is dangerous, but turn on this guy’s tape and you’ll see that if he can get back to that—or even close to it—he’s worth it.

The running back position has been devalued in recent drafts. Last year, no running back was taken until Bishop Sankey with the 54th overall pick. That won’t be the case this year with Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

Dave Gettleman’s best-player-available philosophy would be put to the test if the surgically-repaired Gurley is there with the Panthers on the clock at 25. In my opinion, there wouldn’t be anyone better.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 19, 2015 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (24)

March 18, 2015

Former teammate says Hardy 'unmanageable' at times

With former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy reportedly set to choose between Tampa Bay and Dallas on Wednesday, one of his old teammates had a "buyer beware" message for Hardy's new team.

Ex-Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock, while praising Hardy's playing ability, told a Dallas radio station the embattled free agent could be "unmanageable" at times in Charlotte.

“The Greg Hardy that was on the field was going to be a nightmare for the opposing team. But then you go in and everybody is in the hot tub or the cold tub after practice just shooting the breeze and the guy carries on a very reasonable, level-headed inquisitive type of conversation," Hartsock told ESPN 103.3, via ESPN.com's Todd Archer.

"Then there are other times when he's just unmanageable. And that's why I think things have gotten in trouble with his personal life. He's going have to go a long ways to earn the trust of any organization, whether it be Dallas or any other franchise across the league. His reputation has now become an Achilles heel."

Hardy, still awaiting word from the NFL on a possible suspension for his domestic violence case, was benched for the start of at least two games in Carolina for being late to meetings and/or practice.

He also wrecked his motorcycle in 2011, and tweeted a photo of him apparently driving his Bentley 100 mph.

Those lapses in judgment paled in comparison to the allegations made by ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, who says Hardy threw her around his condo and tossed her on to a futon covered with semi-automatic weapons during an altercation last May.

The charges were thrown out when Holder, who received a settlement from Hardy, failed to show up for the jury trial in February.

Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards told the Observer last week he understood the Panthers' decision to part ways with Hardy, saying "it's bigger than football sometimes."

Now Hartsock is sounding his own cautionary note on a player who had 15 sacks in 2013 during his last full season.

"Like I said, there aren't many people like him on the planet that can play and that can do the things that he does," Hartsock told ESPN 103.3. "But we are also in an NFL environment right now where any off-the-field liability is frowned upon very strongly.”

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2015 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

March 03, 2015

DT Colin Cole re-signs with Panthers

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman makes no secret about his affinity for big linemen -- and he's bringing back one of the biggest on the roster.

Defensive tackle Colin Cole has re-signed with the Panthers on a one-year deal worth $1.05 million, a league source told the Observer on Tuesday.

ESPN's John Clayton was the first to report the signing.

Cole, 6-2 and 330 pounds, has been part of the Panthers' interior line rotation the past two seasons. And though he turns 35 in June, Cole was out of the NFL for two seasons before the Panthers signed him in 2013.

Dwan Edwards, another member of the defensive tackle rotation, also is set to become a free agent next month.

Edwards' agent has met with the Panthers, and it's possible the 33-year-old Edwards returns, as well.

Cole and Edwards are the veterans of a group that includes third-year tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, Carolina's first- and second-round picks in 2013.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 3, 2015 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

February 25, 2015

Panthers interested in Ginn, recently visited with Oher

The Carolina Panthers are interested in bringing back return specialist Ted Ginn, although they're not the only team eyeing him.

A league source said the Panthers plan to reach out to Ginn, who also is drawing interest from his home-state Cleveland Browns.

Ginn enjoyed a career resurgence with the Panthers in 2013 after three disappointing years in San Francisco. He left in free agency last offseason for Arizona, which cut him Monday after Ginn posted some of the worst return numbers of his career.

Carolina's return game struggled last season without Ginn, who will turn 30 in April.

Another potential Panthers' target hit the market Wednesday when Baltimore cut receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Carolina tried to sign Jones in 2012 before he signed with Baltimore. Jones was one of the Ravens' postseason heroes that season, scoring on a 108-yard kickoff return that was the longest in Super Bowl history.

The Panthers also need a left tackle, and recently visited with one of the most famous ones in recent history.

Former Baltimore and Tennessee tackle Michael Oher, who was the inspiration for the movie, "The Blind Side," recently visited the Panthers, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday.

Oher's rise from the streets of Memphis to a full ride at Mississippi was chronicled in the 2009 film. Oher arrived in the NFL with much fanfare as a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2009.

And while he's never been to a Pro Bowl and is coming off a toe injury that ended his 2014 season early, Oher could be a solution for a Panthers team that is not re-signing enigmatic left tackle Byron Bell.

Oher, 28, started 80 consecutive games in his five seasons with Baltimore, where he played both right and left tackle.

But Oher was ranked among the 10 worst tackles in the league last year by Pro Football Focus in his only season with the Titans.

Tennessee released him on Feb. 5 with a waived-injured designation, less than a year after signing a five-year, $20 million contract with the Titans. He played 11 games at right tackle for Tennessee before going on injured reserve after hurting his toe.

Oher is believed to be almost completely recovered, according to the Sun's report.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 25, 2015 at 06:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

February 24, 2015

Williams upset at Panthers' lack of support following mother's death

It wasn't the "blood and guts" franchise receiver leader Steve Smith wished upon the Panthers following his release last year, but longtime running back DeAngelo Williams had his own parting shot while revealing to Charlotte's WBTV the Panthers plan to release him.

Williams, the Panthers' all-time rushing leader, told WBTV he was angry at the Panthers' lack of response following the death of his mother last spring following a long battle with breast cancer.

"To know that a place of business that you've worked for and that you've bled, you've played through injuries, you did everything you possibly can for this organization to be successful, and then upon your darkest hour they let you handle it by yourself," Williams said in the interview that aired Monday night.

After his mother, Sandra Hill, died last May, Williams said he spoke by phone with coach Ron Rivera and GM Dave Gettleman, each of whom expressed their regrets.

WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

But only one person from the organization attended the funeral in Arkansas -- embattled defensive end Greg Hardy.

Williams said he received a note from owner Jerry Richardson, but only after Williams had written a piece about his mom for Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning QB, which was published two weeks after her death.

Williams told WBTV's Molly Grantham that Richardson apologized to him in July, and that the franchise has since adopted a policy to improve their response when a player has a death in the family.

But Williams said he was stung by the lack of sympathy from the Panthers when he lost his mother, who was the impetus for the NFL's breast cancer awareness efforts during October games.

"I was so upset with Carolina because for the last five or six years during October she was celebrated. But then when she's no longer here, let's move on."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 24, 2015 at 07:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

February 23, 2015

Thomas Davis to receive key to the city Monday night

Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who last month was awarded the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, will receive the key to the city at Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.

The honor will take place at the 6:15 p.m. meeting where Charlotte mayor Dan Clodfelter will present the veteran linebacker with the honor.

“The Key to the City is presented to an esteemed citizen and trusted friend of the city’s residents,” Clodfelter said in a statement. “Through his foundation and other charitable acts, Mr. Davis has proven his commitment to empowering young Charlotteans as they pursue their dreams.”

Davis, 31, has established an after-school learning academy, works with the Levine’s Children's Hospital and does an annual Christmas shopping spree with local children through his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation.

Last month before the Super Bowl, Davis was honored as the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year for his work off the field.

“There’s so much negativity that’s going on in this league and so much that’s being reported. I just feel like we’re in a position where we can make a difference,” Davis said that night. “We can do so much with the platform and the voice that we have right now. It’s up to us to take advantage of it.”

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 23, 2015 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

February 19, 2015

Rivera, Gettleman talk Newton, Hardy and tackles

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Ron Rivera both addressed the media Thursday at the scouting combine in Indianapolis.

Five quick takeaways:

1-The writing is on the wall for Greg Hardy.

Both Rivera and Gettleman declined to comment specifically about Hardy, who remains on the exempt list while the league investigates his domestic violence case.

But it was telling that Gettleman said he hasn't spoken with Hardy since mid-September when he went on the exempt list, and has had only minimal contact with Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy's agent.

And when discussing drafting players with character issues, Gettleman said: "Who wants a ticking time bomb?"

2-Don't dismiss DeAngelo Williams, yet.

There has been a lot of speculation the Panthers might cut Williams, who is coming off an injury-plagued season and turns 32 in April.

Gettleman and Rivera recently sat down with Williams, and Rivera called it a good meeting.

The only time Gettleman met with Steve Smith last year was when he told him he was cutting him.

3-The Panthers will explore all their options at left tackle.

Neither Gettleman nor Rivera ruled out bringing Byron Bell back, although Gettleman said this year's tackle class is deeper than last year's top-heavy group.

Rivera said the Panthers would look at free agent tackles and college tackles -- as well as Bell, who will be an unrestricted free agent next month -- as part of their evaluation process.

4-Cam Newton is feeling good.

Newton, who is expected to finish his degree at Auburn this semester, was in Charlotte recently and told Rivera he's as healthy as he's been in a long time.

Gettleman wouldn't discuss Newton's contract status, but said -- again -- that Newton is the team's long-term quarterback.

5-The need for speed.

Watching the playoff loss to Seattle only reinforced Rivera's belief that the Panthers need to get faster -- and not just at skill positions.

The Panthers' injection of youth and speed late in the season helped spur the December run into the playoffs. But Rivera said there are still areas where the Panthers can get faster.

Given No. 1 on this list, expect the Panthers' scouts and coaches to keep a close eye on the edge rushers here this week.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 19, 2015 at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 17, 2015

Panthers cut Thomas DeCoud after one season

The Panthers have started taking small steps toward the March 12 start of free agency.

The team announced Tuesday afternoon it released safety Thomas DeCoud after signing the seven-year veteran to a two-year contract last offseason.

DeCoud, who inked a two-year deal worth $3.525 million last year, didn’t have the speed the Panthers needed in the defensive backfield in 2014 and was replaced late in the season with rookie Tre Boston.

It’s the second cut for DeCoud in as many years. He signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract before the 2012 season. He went on to play in the Pro Bowl after that season.

But Atlanta cut him following the 2013 season and the Panthers picked him up as they retooled their secondary.

He had just one interception and two passes defensed for Carolina in 2014. When Boston returned to the lineup from a groin strain, the rookie surpassed DeCoud on the depth chart.

By cutting DeCoud, the Panthers should save almost $1.9 million in cap space for 2015.

The Panthers also confirmed they signed offensive guard Chris Scott to a one-year deal. Scott was set to be a restricted free agent.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 17, 2015 at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

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