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February 28, 2009

Hangartner excited about opportunity

Geoff Hangartner says he’ll miss his friends in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room, but he’s thrilled to reach his goal of becoming a full-time NFL starter.

The Buffalo Bills signed him today to a four-year contract and made him their starting center. Hangartner started eight games for the Panthers last season at center and guard when other players were injured.

Over the past three years, he has 27 starts, which put him in prime position for opportunities elsewhere when the NFL’s free agency signing period opened Friday.

As an unrestricted free agent, Hangartner immediately drew the attention of the Bills, who desperately needed a center.

His trip to Buffalo was interrupted by flight delays, but once he arrived, meetings went well with Buffalo coaches and officials, and the deal was struck.

“I’m really excited to go to Buffalo,” Hangartner said in a telephone interview with the Observer tonight. “They gave me a chance to be their starting center, which is what I’ve been looking for.

“It’s a really class organization and I’m really impressed with all the people up there. I think they’ve got some good talent up there … I think it’s a team on the rise.”

Hangartner is close to Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross and other players and said he’ll miss being around those friends.

“The reason it’s tough leaving is because I have a lot of great relationships with people in (the Carolina) organization,” he said. “I’ve spoken with a few guys from the Panthers and they all seemed happy for me. That’s what’s hard to leave.

“But I felt this is what’s best for me.  I feel like I’ve got a lot of experience and I’m ready to be a starter. That’s really been my goal for a while.”

In his new job, Hangartner will be assigned to block some top nose tackles in the NFC East, including former Carolina teammate Kris Jenkins, now with the New York Jets.

“I guess fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve got a lot of experience (in practice) going against Jenks,” said Hangartner. “He’s a great player and it’ll be a challenge. I’m really looking forward to it.”

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 28, 2009 at 09:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (32)

Post-Lucas, Lions acquire Cowboys' Henry

The Detroit Lions didn't stop their pursuit of a veteran cornerback after Carolina's Ken Lucas declined to have his contract renegotiated, which effectively nixed the talks between the Panthers and Lions.

It's being reported tonight by ESPN's John Clayton that the Lions traded quarterback Jon Kitna to Dallas in exchange for cornerback Antony Henry, who started for the Cowboys the past three seasons.

So Henry becomes Detroit's newest corner and Kitna has escaped exile and now will be the backup for Tony Romo.

Henry becomes the second veteran cornerback traded in the past two days, following Philadelphia's trade of Lito Sheppard to the New York Jets.

Lucas, of course, remains available.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 28, 2009 at 07:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (46)

Hangartner now Bills' starting center

As expected, it didn't take long for the Buffalo-Geoff Hangartner talks to result in him becoming the second Panthers' backup offensive lineman to land a starting job elsewhere in as many days via free agency.

Hangartner signed a four-year contract with Buffalo (no numbers yet) and is set to start at center. He reportedly dazzled the team's coaches with his extensive knowledge of the different defensive fronts centers face in the NFL.

The Bills have already made Hangartner available to the Buffalo-area media and word is he's catching a flight back home to Austin, Tx.

One day earlier, Carolina unrestricted free agent tackle Frank Omiyale signed to start with the Chicago Bears.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 28, 2009 at 06:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

February 27, 2009

Sheppard trade a glimpse of Lucas' value

Some semblance of what the Carolina Panthers may be seeking in trade compensation for cornerback Ken Lucas may be found in the deal the Phiadelphia Eagles and New York Jets are close to completing.

According to NFL.com's Adam Schefter, the Eagles are completing a deal to send cornerback Lito Sheppard to the Jets for a 2009 fifth-round pick and a 2010 conditional pick, which could be as high as a second-rounder or as low as a fourth-rounder.

Sheppard will be 28 by the start of the season and is two years younger than Lucas.

However, Lucas has been more of a consistent starter. Lucas started every game for the past two seasons and has 63 starts, counting playoffs, since arriving with the Panthers in 2005. Sheppard started just three games last season and never has started all 16 games in a season.

A fifth-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder next year, with the possibility of it becoming a second based upon agreed-upon conditions, would seem reasonable compensation for Lucas. Of course, the Panthers might have to take less because of his age. Given the Panthers' recent dealings with the Jets  (such as the Kris Jenkins trade last year), you'd have to think Carolina offered Lucas to New York.

Any compensation for Lucas would beat having to release him without getting anything in return. The Panthers would save $2.375 million under their 2009 salary cap by releasing or trading Lucas.

Lucas nixed a potential trade to Detroit, which went 0-16 last season, but the Panthers are believed to be closely monitoring the market of teams looking for veteran cornerback help in order to find a trade partner.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 09:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)

Beason has shoulder surgery

Panthers All-Pro linebacker Jon Beason had shoulder surgery earlier this month, he writes in his blog.

Beason said he tore his labrum in a regular-season victory against the Arizona Cardinals in October. He hurt it two plays before he made a key second-half interception of Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. Beason said he played with the injury the rest of the season.

Beason said he'll be in a sling for 4-6 weeks and will be ready for training camp. He's not sure if he'll be ready for OTA's in the spring, although he said he needs to be working with the Panthers' new defensive coaches. -- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 02:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Peppers won't cause problems if he stays

There has been concern among some Panthers fans that defensive end Julius Peppers could be a locker room problem next season if the franchise tag keeps him on the team against his wishes.

There seems little basis for that concern, however. Peppers never has been known to be a distraction in the locker room. He's always been a pro. His teammates elected him a captain last year.

Even as he and agent Carl Carey expressed his desire to play elsewhere prior to the Panthers' making their franchise player designation, they were careful not to burn bridges with the organization. Neither of them ever spoke ill of the Panthers, team ownership or coaches. Instead, they were about as kind to the Panthers as they could be considering they were trying to do everything possible to either not be franchised or to be traded.

Peppers' teammates won't take his business dealings personally. If he returns, which seems likely, will he be elected a captain again? It's too early to say, but it's certainly possible.

As for Peppers possibly holding out in order to get what he wants, he said the day after the season ended that he doesn't think that's the best way to do business. Plus, he's 29 -- not a good age to be sitting out -- and has a $16.683 million offer sheet in front of him.

But it's also likely that he won't easily give up on his desire to continue his career elsehwere. That might mean playing for the Panthers for at least one more season, then he might try to find a way out a year from now.

If he stays, however, he almost certainly won't be a team "cancer." He never has been and hasn't shown any reason to suspect that would change.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 12:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (61)

Bills eyeing Hangartner to block Jenkins

One of the interesting aspects of Buffalo's interest in Panthers' unrestricted free agent offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner is that the Bills need a center and, specifically, need to find someone who can block Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins.

Jenkins, of course, is the former Panthers Pro Bowler whom Hangartner used to face in practice.

Jenkins and the Jets face Buffalo twice a year in the AFC East. Last season, Jenkins literally manhandled the Bills' interior linemen. He had five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks (almost half his season sack total of 3 1/2) in the Jets' 26-17 win at Orchard Park on Nov. 2.

Hangartner, 303 pounds, isn't nearly as big or as strong as Jenkins (listed at 349, but somtimes more), but Hangartner is plenty crafty.

Hangartner is scheduled to visit the Bills today to scout out the opportunity to become a full-time starter.

It's difficult to know what the Panthers would have done without him last year, but it's for sure he played a key role in their 12-4 season. He started eight games when other linemen were injured, making starts at center and both guard positions.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 11:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Agent: Omiyale was 'in high demand'

0226omiyalemug It turns out Frank Omiyale was getting far too much attention from other teams to consider staying with the Carolina Panthers as a backup.

Omiyale’s agent, Mark Slough, said at least 10 teams contacted him with varying degrees of interest in Omiyale after the free agency signing period opened at midnight. Omiyale was quick to strike a four-year deal worth up to $14 million with the Chicago Bears, who plan to make him a starter.

Clearly, Omiyale made the most of his limited playing time for the Panthers last season. He excelled against Kansas City when he started in place of left tackle Jordan Gross, who had a concussion, and also played left tackle late in the season against New Orleans when injuries forced the Panthers to shuffle their line.

“I think he is a young, athletic tackle who can move around and play different positions in the line,” Slough said of Omiyale. “He’s a veteran guy with no wear and tear at all.

“When he had his opportunity after Gross had the concussion, he took full advantage of that. His performance in that game and the next-to-last game (against the Saints) … stood out to talent evaluators throughout the league.

“He was in high demand. Carolina wanted him back, but in this league, when you get an opportunity to play, you’d better take it.”

 -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 09:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Omiyale gone to Bears

Indeed, the Panthers are going to have to rebuild their offensive line depth. Word just in from the Chicago Sun-Times that backup left tackle Frank Omiyale has signed a four-year contract worth up to $14 million with the Chicago Bears. Center-guard Geoff Hangartner is visiting Buffalo today and likely will be gone soon. Earlier this week, the Panthers released guard-tackle Jeremy Bridges to save $2.375 million under the salary cap.

The hard reality in the NFL is that it's tough to keep your good players, which the  Panthers have done well with. But it can be even more difficult to keep your backups, especially when they have starting opportunities elsewhere. It sure looks like Omiyale and Hangartner are going to be starters next season, and they've earned it. Bridges might soon have that chance, too.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Early free agency observations

A few thoughts on free agency now that the signing and trading periods officially have opened:

(x) The Panthers truly are fortunate, and deserve credit, for signing Jordan Gross to a long-term contract extension last Thursday to keep him off the free agent market. Gross is a classy, humble guy, and he was right on when he said there likely would have been a "feeding frenzy" to  sign him if he had hit the market as an unrestricted free agent. He easily would have been the top offensive lineman available. After all, he was the first-team all-pro left tackle. Though his new Carolina contract pays him $30.5 million over the first three years, a record for an offensive linemen, he probably could've made more.

(x) Evidence of how hot a commodity Gross would have been is found in the fact that his good buddy Geoff Hangartner, a backup guard-center extraordinaire for the Panthers, already has a visit scheduled to Buffalo on the first day of free agency, per NFL.com. Hangartner has earned the right to start full-time and the Bills might be just the spot for him after their release of guard Derrick Dockery.

(x) It sure didn't take long for Tennessee unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to land with the Redskins with a seven-year contract worth $100 million that is said to include $41 million in guarantees. Haynesworth, regarding as the best defensive tackle in the league, was reportedly swarmed with enormous offers. The same type of thing could've been happening for Julius Peppers if the Panthers hadn't franchised him. Of course, Peppers made it clear he was looking for the right fit and not just the highest payout, but suffice it to say he would have had plenty of big offers. Now, the chances look slim that there will be a trade involving Peppers for at least three reasons: 1) Teams are so reluctant to give up first-round picks; 2) Peppers has a short list of prospective new teams and getting all the elements to work for a deal would be difficult; and 3) The Panthers have made it clear they want to keep him. The franchise tag is intended to be restrictive, and it is.

-- Charles Chandler 

Posted by Observer Sports on February 27, 2009 at 04:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)