March 08, 2014
Mike Mitchell, Ted Ginn Jr. expected to hit open market
Carolina Panthers free safety Mike Mitchell and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. -- the team's top priorities among their own free agents -- are expected to hit the open market Tuesday when the free agency signing period begins.
Mitchell and Ginn signed one-year deals with the Panthers last offseason and played big roles in the 12-win season that produced the Panthers' first playoff appearance in five years.
Both players are looking to cash in on their success from 2013, but the Panthers' salary cap situation could hinder their ability to re-sign them to long-term deals.
After defensive end Greg Hardy signed a $13.1 million franchise tender this week, the Panthers are about $7 million below the $133 million cap. Teams have to be below the cap when the league year begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Mitchell, 26, was a backup in Oakland who flourished as a starter with the Panthers. He brought a physical presence to the back end of the league's second-ranked defense, and his four interceptions tied middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for the team lead.
Mitchell is expected to draw interest from several teams during the league's three-day negotiating window, which began at noon Saturday. The Falcons, who reportedly plan to release safety Thomas DeCoud, could be among the suitors for Mitchell.
The Panthers have a fall-back option on their roster in safety Charles Godfrey, who missed most of last season after rupturing his Achilles in Week 2. Godfrey was thought to be a potential salary cap casualty, but the Panthers could try to restructure his deal if it looks like they can't re-sign Mitchell.
Ginn, 28, had a career resurgence last season after a couple of forgettable years in San Francisco. Ginn posted career highs with five touchdown catches and a 15.4 yards-per-catch average as Cam Newton's favorite deep target.
Ginn also gave the Panthers a big-play threat in their return game, which is among the reasons the Panthers view him as a priority.
The Panthers have 18 remaining free agents, several of whom they would like to bring back on a short, team-friendly deals. That list includes starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, No. 2 tight end Ben Hartsock and backup quarterback Derek Anderson.
March 07, 2014
What's the future hold for Brandon LaFell?
Midway through the 2013 season, Steve Smith began campaigning for the Panthers to re-sign wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
Flash forward to March 2014 and we now see that Carolina may not hold Smith’s stump speeches in such high regard.
With questions about the future of Smith in Carolina, mystery abounds down the wide receiving depth chart. LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon are all slated to become unrestricted free agents on Tuesday.
But what’s to make of LaFell, the team’s No. 2 receiver for the past two years? His promising 17 yards per catch during the 2011 season that earned him the No. 2 spot dipped to 12.8 this past season—a make-or-break year for LaFell in the final year of his rookie contract.
LaFell, the team’s best blocking receiver, has battled a case of the drops for the better part of the past two seasons. And with just 627 receiving yards on 49 catches, his statistical production left a lot to be desired from the No. 2 receiver.
LaFell signed a four-year, $3.47 million contract when he was drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2010. In his next deal, be it with the Panthers or elsewhere, he’s likely to fetch around $1 million per year.
Here’s why: LaFell did little to separate himself as a top receiver in the NFL during his four years, and as his production tapered off with more responsibility, he showed he may be better suited as a No. 3.
The market will soon be saturated with wide receivers just like LaFell. Jason Avant, Lance Moore and Sidney Rice are just three players who have similar numbers to LaFell and could offer equal or greater production at the same price.
Avant, a former Eagle, is known as one of the league’s good guys, and he would be instrumental in developing a young wide receivers’ meeting room. Moore, who tweeted Thursday he will be released by New Orleans, could offer keen insight into a team the Panthers will play twice a year (plus, he’s one year separated from a 1,000-yard season). And Rice would come at a bargain with injuries in his past, but still has the youth (27) and size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) teams covet.
Once you get past the veterans on the market, then comes May’s draft, which promises to be deep at wide receiver. As many as six receivers—Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marquise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Kelvin Benjamin—could go in the first round.
Ultimately, it’s possible the Panthers will offer LaFell a cheap, short-term contract and allow LaFell to test the market. That deal would also come with the caveat that he has either lost his No. 2 spot or that he will have to compete for it like everyone else in Spartanburg.
Because the demand on receivers will be the same as it always is in the NFL, and because the supply of serviceable (and cheap) receivers will be high, there may not be a better offer out there for LaFell.
March 06, 2014
Steve Smith: I'm a Panther until I'm told otherwise
Steve Smith didn’t want to discuss the specifics of his meeting with Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman earlier this week.
When asked by ESPN at Clemson's Pro Day about the likelihood of returning to the Panthers in 2014 for his 14th season, Smith said he is still a member of the Carolina Panthers but didn’t say much more.
“Here’s all I have to say about it,” Smith said. “I am working out and doing all the things as I am a Carolina Panther. That’s where I am. And I’ll continue to move forward until I am told otherwise.”
Smith, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, reiterated his surprise when he heard he was “part of the evaluation process.” Gettleman said those words at the NFL scouting combine, and Tuesday was the first time Smith had spoken with Gettleman since his exit interview following the playoff loss to San Francisco.
“Like every offseason they are making moves and making decisions that are going to be, moving forward, for the betterment of the team,” Smith told ESPN. “Those decisions and those conversations I don’t know all of them. I’m not in the meeting rooms. But we talked about some things. And what we talked about it is what we talked about.”
Smith has said he can’t envision not playing in 2014. But with the possibility of not being on the Panthers’ roster in 2014, Smith was asked if he could imagine playing for any other team. He dodged that question, as well.
“It’s a business and I understand that, and ultimately decisions aren’t up to me,” Smith said. “I’m a player. At the end of the day, if a team decides to move on, I have to either accept that or I go sit at home and cry about it. So we’ll see.”
Smith is scheduled to make $4 million in base salary this year, with a cap figure of $7 million. He did not discuss any specifics regarding his contract.
Are the Panthers interested in Devin Hester?
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has never tried to hide his respect and admiration for Chicago return specialist Devin Hester, who told NFL Network on Wednesday he expects the Bears to release him.
Rivera, a former Bears assistant, watched Hester almost singlehandedly beat the Panthers in 2011 when he returned a Jason Baker punt 69 yards for a touchdown, and brought back a kickoff 73 yards to set up another touchdown.
With the 31-year-old Hester about to hit the open market, could the Panthers be among his suitors?
That depends on how the negotiations with Ted Ginn Jr. progress.
The Panthers view Ginn as one of their free agent priorities after he caught a career-high five touchdown passes in 2013 and gave the Panthers a big-play threat in their return games during his first year in Charlotte.
The 28-year-old Ginn is younger than Hester and a more accomplished receiver. Given the uncertainty of Steve Smith's future with the Panthers and the fact three receivers are eligible for free agency, Ginn's success as a receiver last season has to give him an edge on Hester.
Hester said he's interested in reuniting with former Bears coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, a scenario that would pit him against the Panthers twice a year.
But with Hester's resume -- his 19 career returns for touchdown are tied with Deion Sanders for the NFL record -- and Rivera's history with him in Chicago, the Panthers almost have to kick the tires on him.
If nothing else, it could provide leverage in their talks with Ginn.
March 05, 2014
Greg Olsen talks about the franchise tag at the tight end position
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen sits down with CineSport's Noah Coslov to discuss Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's case over the team's franchise tag use as Graham thinks he should be paid as a WR.
March 04, 2014
Smith sits down with Gettleman
Panthers wideout Steve Smith met with general manager Dave Gettleman on Tuesday, according to a league source.
Smith called the meeting after Gettleman was non-committal about Smith's future with the team when asked about him at the scouting combine last month.
"Steve's had a great career. He really has," Gettleman said in Indianapolis. "None of us are here forever. But that's not to say -- he's part of the evaluation process. That's just the way it is."
Smith, who will turn 35 in May, saw his production slip in 2013.
His 64 catches were his third-lowest during a full season in his 13-year career, and his 745 receiving yards were his second fewest, behind his 554-yard total in 2010. Smith's 11.6 yards-per-catch average also ranked among the worst of his career.
With his fiery temperament and his place atop all of the franchise's career receiving charts, Smith remains popular among the team's fan base. He also has a good relationship with owner Jerry Richardson.
Smith is set to make $4 million this year, with a cap figure of $7 million.
Hardy signs $13.1 million franchise tender
Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy has signed his franchise tender, guaranteeing his $13.1 million salary for this season, a league source said Tuesday.
The move means Hardy can not sign an offer sheet with another team and gives the Panthers incentive to get a long-term deal done with Hardy for salary-cap purposes.
The Panthers continue to negotiate a multiyear deal with Hardy, although it's unclear how close the two sides are.
With Hardy signing the tender and the Panthers signing kicker Graham Gano to a four-year, $12 million deal last week, the Panthers now are about $7 million below the $133 million salary cap.
Hardy and defensive end Charles Johnson now account for more than $29 million of the team's salary cap.
A long-term deal for Hardy would supersede the franchise tender.
Hardy, 25, went to his first Pro Bowl in January after tying the Kevin Greene's franchise record with 15 sacks.
February 28, 2014
Panthers will use franchise tag on DE Greg Hardy
The Panthers will use the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy, according to a team source and multiple reports.
Hardy was slated to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11. The tag will keep Hardy a Panther through the 2014 season at a price expected to be close to $13 million.
According to a source, the tag will give the Panthers the ability to work with Hardy and his agent on a long-term deal with the team.
Hardy, who the Panthers drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, tied a team record with 15 sacks in 2013. He had 11 sacks in 2012.
SportsIllustrated.com recently ranked Hardy as the No. 1 potential free agent in the NFL.
The Panthers now have 18 players set to become unrestricted free agents on March 11.
Panthers sign K Graham Gano to 4-year deal
The Panthers believe they have finally found a replacement for John Kasay.
The team announced Friday it signed kicker Graham Gano to a four-year deal. Gano was set to become a free agent in less than two weeks. The deal is reportedly worth $12.4 million.
Gano went 24-of-27 on field goals in 2013. His six field goals of 50 yards or more set a franchise record and tied the NFL high for 2013. Gano was also a force off the tee as 77.8 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks.
"The special teams unit was a large part of our success last year and we are excited to keep Graham as a part of our team,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. “Graham has shown range and accuracy in his field goal kicking, and his strong leg has been a weapon for us on kickoffs.”
He joined the team midway through the 2012 season and signed a two-year deal worth $1.33 million. Gano came to Carolina after the Panthers cut Justin Medlock.
Gano is already the second longest-tenured kicker in Panthers history. Kasay kicked for 15 years for the Panthers--save for a 2002 injury--but since his release following the 2010 season, the Panthers have struggled to replace him. Olindo Mare kicked for the Panthers in 2011 and then lost the job to Medlock in training camp the following year.
Carolina now has 19 players set to become unrestricted free agents on March 11.
February 27, 2014
Combine profile: Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Name: Allen Robinson
Position: Wide receiver
School/Class: Penn State/Junior
Projected round: 2nd
Career highlights: Set a school record in receiving yards with 1,013 in his junior season, a mark that prompted him to leave school early, especially after coach Bill O’Brien went to the pros. He was named a third-team All-American.
Did you know?: Robinson is from Detroit. He said Michigan didn’t try to recruit him out of high school and Michigan State wanted him as a defensive back.
Quotes: “That’s (draft depth at WR) not something I can really focus on too much. I just try to go in every day and every workout to improve my game. The depth, it is what it is. That’s something that’s out of my control. I really don’t try to focus on that too much.
"I compare myself to a receiver like Reggie Wayne. We have a similar body type. He’s a pretty good route runner, as well. So that’s kind of who I’d compare myself to. It’s kind of hard to say. That’s something I really don’t try to focus in on, outside of what my coaches and family have to say.”
Panthers’ level of interest: In other drafts, Robinson would be a first-rounder. But this draft is so deep, especially at receiver, that I don’t see Robinson—maybe the fifth-best receiver—going in the first round. With a 4.6 40, Robinson may have dropped himself into the second round. It’s possible, but unlikely, he’s there for Carolina in the second round. But if he is, he’d be a find there and the Panthers should pounce.