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May 16, 2007

Pat Yasinskas' blog will return soon

Posted by Observer Sports on May 16, 2007 at 04:36 PM | Permalink

May 10, 2007

Trying to gauge Gross' value

Received a very thought-provoking e-mail the other day.

"What is Jordan Gross worth?’’ the e-mailer asked.

That’s a great question and one the Panthers have to be asking themselves. With Steve Smith just signed to a three-year contract extension, the focus turns to extensions for Gross and defensive end Julius Peppers.

Any deal for Peppers is going to involve ridiculous numbers because he’s a ridiculous talent. But it’s much harder to get a gauge on Gross’ value.

Offensive tackles such as Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones average more than $7 million a year. The players in the next tier of tackles average more than $6 million a year.

Does Gross belong in the upper-echelon? That’s what the Panthers have to decide and an argument can be made both ways.

On one hand, Gross is a solid player, the only lineman in franchise history who was drafted early and has panned out. He’s been durable and versatile, playing left and right tackle. When he’s played on the right side, his level of play has been close to the Pro Bowl level.

On the other hand, Gross never has made the Pro Bowl. He’s relatively young, but he’s not going to get much better.

Is he worth $7 million a year or do the Panthers turn him into the next Will Witherspoon and let him walk after the 2007 season?

Owner Jerry Richardson has said the Panthers want to keep Gross and said he believes the team can make it happen, while also keeping Smith and Peppers. But maybe this is a decision the Panthers don’t need to rush into because there could be a lot of other factors.

Left tackle Travelle Wharton is also scheduled to be a free agent after this season, and the jury’s still out on him. Rashad Butler didn’t play as a rookie last year, but the Panthers believe he has potential. Jeremy Bridges, who started at right tackle much of last year and might move to guard this year, also can be part of the future plans.

The Panthers have a good idea of Gross’ capabilities, but his real worth might not be fully determined until they figure out what Wharton, Butler and Bridges are worth.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 10, 2007 at 04:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

May 09, 2007

Hall sacks up storm in Europe

When it comes to performances in NFL Europa, you have to keep things in perspective. Remember, Dameyune Craig once threw for something like 600 yards a game and it translated into nothing on this side of the Atlantic. Maybe this means nothing, too, but there is one member of the Panthers off to a great start in NFL Europa this season. That’s defensive end Jason Hall of the Cologne Centurions. In his past two games, Hall has eight tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and one pass defensed. His three sacks lead NFL Europa for the first four games.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 9, 2007 at 02:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

May 08, 2007

Smith just step one of Panthers' strategy

  One down, two to go.

   Tuesday's announcement that the Panthers have signed Steve Smith to a contract extension was only the first part of a critical three-step process for the future of the team.

   Smith  is locked up for the long term. But general manager Marty Hurney has two huge challenges in front of him. The team also wants to sign defensive end Julius Peppers and offensive tackle Jordan Gross to extensions.

   Any deal for Peppers will be the richest in franchise history and Gross won't be cheap. But those moves now become Hurney's top two priorities.

   At the NFL meeting in Phoenix in March, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson said the team wanted to sign Smith, Peppers and Gross to long-term deals. Richardson said he didn't see any problem making the finances work. But the owner did say there would be a trickle-down effect. Richardson said the trio will take up a huge portion of the salary cap in future years and that means the team will have to carry more younger and inexpensive players.

   Driving to Bank of America Stadium this morning for a news conference to formally announce Steve Smith's three-year contract extension, I thought of an incident back in 2002. That's when the Panthers first started thinking seriously of letting Smith, who was primarily a return man as a rookie in 2001, play a large role as a wide receiver.

   Another media member, who used to cover the team, came up with this observation: "I don't think he can play wide receiver in this league."

   That person wasn't alone in his thinking. There were a lot of folks in the media and, even in NFL personnel departments, that thought Smith was too small to be an effective receiver.

   Five years later, Smith might be the best receiver in the game.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 8, 2007 at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (19)

May 02, 2007

Keyshawn was a reporter's dream

This is purely from a selfish perspective, but I’m going to miss Keyshawn Johnson.

I've been in this line of work since 1990 and can honestly say that Johnson was a media dream. Covering players such as Trent Dilfer, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Steve Beuerlein, Brentson Buckner and Mike Minter has been great. They all have been absolute pleasures to deal with. But Johnson was simply the best when it came to filling up a notepad or providing a television clip.

Sure, some (maybe most) of it was self-serving and Johnson knew how to play the media. But that was fine. Johnson would sit or stand at his locker day after day and talk about anything and everything. Lots of players do that, but Johnson took it to a new level.

I first noticed that at training camp. Players would come out of the cafeteria after lunch and rush back to the dorms to catch a nap before the afternoon practice. Johnson would stop and shoot the breeze with the writers, even on the days when the writers didn’t ask to speak to him.

Getting him on the phone meant you had to block off at least 30 minutes of your day, and there was one time this spring when Johnson kept a conversation going by asking, "So what’s new in Charlotte?" and "What have you been up to this offseason?"

The media privately dubbed Johnson, "The Vortex" because once you got near his locker, your chances of getting away and interviewing anyone else were pretty much shot. But it always was entertaining.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 2, 2007 at 05:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Jarrett, Kalil to attend workouts

Bit of good news, involving rookies Dwayne Jarrett and Ryan Kalil. Although a lot of players from West Coast schools have been prohibited from taking part in June workouts in recent years, general manager Marty Hurney said that won’t be the case with the two players from Southern California.

Hurney said Southern California is on a semester system and classes will be done in time for the June workouts.

The NFL and the NCAA have a rule that prohibits players from taking part in those workouts until their classes have graduated, and that previously has impacted some Panthers coming from West Coast schools that use a quarter system.

Attending the workouts should be a big help for Jarrett and Kalil, who will get a chance to be familiar with the offense before they get to training camp.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 2, 2007 at 02:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

May 01, 2007

Keyshawn still draws interest

Keyshawn Johnson might have to put his television career on hold. Word is there might be a pretty good market for him. The Eagles, Chargers, Giants and Titans are rumored to be among the teams that are at least thinking about pursuing Johnson.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 1, 2007 at 08:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (105)

Cap implications of cutting Johnson

   Let’s do a little more separating the facts from fiction on the finances of the Keyshawn Johnson situation.

   Here’s the deal: He was scheduled to count $3.25 million against the salary cap this year. Instead, the Panthers will have to absorb $3.75 million in outstanding pro-ration of his original bonus, but they’ll actually save cap room with this move. As part of a new rule this year, Johnson will be designated as a post-June 1 release. That will allow the Panthers to spread his cap hit over two years.

   He’ll count $1.25 million this year and $2.5 million against the 2008 cap.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 1, 2007 at 05:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

No $3 million bonus for Johnson

   Let's clear up a little matter here before it gets too wide-spread: The Panthers DID NOT pay Keyshawn Johnson a $3 million roster bonus on April 1, as has been reported elsewhere and has fans scratching their heads.

   The Panthers did pay Johnson $1 million April 1. But that was deferred money from the signing bonus he agreed to when he initially signed with the Panthers. Johnson also was due a $1 million reporting bonus at the start of training camp. Obviously, he won't get that money and it won't count against the salary cap.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 1, 2007 at 04:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

Why Panthers canned Keyshawn

   Here's why Keyshawn Johnson is gone:

   Although the receiver, who was followed by controversy in his previous stops, seemed to be a model citizen in his one season with the Panthers, there were some-behind the scenes issues.

   Some very important people in the organization weren't happy when Johnson failed to stand up and take blame away from quarterback Jake Delhomme after some critical passes intended for Johnson were intercepted. At least one very important person in the organization urged Johnson to do that and he didn't.

   Johnson also didn't endear himself to some key people by questioning some coaching moves. The Panthers are on the hook for $3.75 million in salary cap space because of remaining signing bonus prorations. They may designate Johnson as a June 1 cut and spread the cap hit over two years.

   The decision to part ways with Johnson actually was made at least several weeks ago. When a rumor was circulating about this move last week, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney told The Observer that information was "not accurate.''

   Apparently, the Panthers wanted to make sure their bases were covered before officially making the move, and the clincher came when they drafted USC's Dwayne Jarrett in the second round Saturday.

Posted by Observer Sports on May 1, 2007 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (71)