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March 30, 2009

Panthers-Giants exhibition on national TV

The Carolina Panthers announced their preseason schedule today. It features a nationally-televised (ESPN) matchup with the New York Giants at the Meadowlands on Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. The Giants beat the Panthers late last season in a key regular season game.

None of the Panthers' other exhibitions have a date or time set yet. Carolina travels to Miami for its second exhibition, then returns home to face Baltimore and the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The regular season schedule is expected to be released soon.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 30, 2009 at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

March 26, 2009

Fox likes backup QBs, but change possible

   Here are more comments from coach John Fox’s Wednesday morning interview with reporters, including the Observer’s Charles Chandler, at the league owners’ meetings in Dana Point, Calif. Some questions and answers are edited for clarity and brevity:

   Q: Though you have expressed a strong commitment to Jake Delhomme as your starting quarterback, is it time to identify or go about acquiring his eventual replacement?

   A: I think we’ve got two good young quarterbacks right now, Josh McCown and Matty (Moore), who started late in the season two years ago. I think we’ve got too good young developmental guys. And what we do from there, I mean, things could even change from that. But I don’t think it’s like we’ve got a bunch of old veteran guys behind (Delhomme).

   Q: How has it been for you this year not being active in free agency due to your tight salary cap, plus also not having a first-round draft pick?

   A: We got our first-rounder last year (by trading the ’09 first-rounder to acquire tackle) Jeffrey Otah. As far as cap-wise, I don’t know that we’ve ever been really big players in free agency to begin with. I think we’ve got a good young core for a football team. We’re comfortable working through the draft, and always have been.

   Q: Are ’08 draft picks Mackenzy Bernadeau and Geoff Schwartz ready to step up and be primary backups on the offensive line?

   A: That’s a hard question to answer. At some point, I wasn’t sure if (recently departed unrestricted free agents) Geoff Hangartner and Frank Omiyale were going to be ready – I’m talking about years ago. That’s the exciting part about coaching. That’s the exciting part about being a young player coming into this league. If you go about your business right, you get rewarded. We’re in that process of getting ready to do it again.

   Q: Is Richard Marshall ready to start at cornerback?

   A: I hope so. I like Richard. I like his competitiveness. I think he’s done terrific. We’ve got some young guys we think are ready to step up. … He’s a second-round draft pick we’re hoping is ready to start.


   Q: Marshall has been such a good No. 3 cornerback for you, and that’s an important position. Who is the third cornerback now, and is he even on the roster yet?

   A: That’s hard to predict. Obviously, we wouldn’t have (released starter Ken Lucas) if we didn’t think so.

    (There’s) C.J. (Wilson). Dante (Wesley). And we haven’t had a draft yet. We’re not done with the selection process. It’s really too hard to predict yet. But with the guys we have, obviously we have a comfort zone with those guys.

Posted by Observer Sports on March 26, 2009 at 08:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (98)

March 25, 2009

Panthers in contract talks with Delhomme

   DANA POINT, Calif. – The Carolina Panthers are talking to quarterback Jake Delhomme’s agent about a possible contract extension, but both sides say it’s too early to say whether a new deal will be reached.

   Delhomme, 34, is in the final year of his contract and is scheduled to count more than $11 million against the Panthers’ salary cap next season. The team could significantly reduce his 2009 cap number – perhaps by as much as 50 percent – with a multi-year extension.

   Wednesday was the first day either side has confirmed the contract talks.

   “There are discussions,” coach John Fox said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “It’s always ongoing. There is no question we’ve got a commitment to Jake. Whether that comes to fruition with a contract (extension), I can’t say.”

   Delhomme’s agent, Rick Smith, said the uncertainty of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement factors into the situation. Unless a CBA extension is reached, the 2010 season is scheduled to be played without a salary cap, without a lockout of players by team owners possible before the 2011 season.

   “Marty (Hurney, Carolina’s general manager) and I talk every week,” said Smith. “We talk abut a lot of different concepts. Ultimately, they would like to get something done. We’re always talking about different things. Whether or not something will happen, I don’t know.”

   The Panthers’ firm commitment to Delhomme as their starting quarterback comes despite increased criticism from fans following his six-turnover performance in Carolina’s 33-13 home playoff loss to Arizona on Jan. 10.

   “Sometimes today’s headlines aren’t the right things (on which to base) a big decision,” said Fox. “Jake had games like that during the season. He didn’t have an especially great game at Tampa. He didn’t have an especially great game out in Oakland. I think that can be said for any quarterback in the National Football League.

   “So when you’re a decision-maker, you can’t let the emotion of that one outing blur the big picture … I wholeheartedly appreciate what fans say, and the critics. But I think he had a bad game; he’s not a bad quarterback.”

   Delhomme’s 80 starts at quarterback are a Carolina team record. He has led the Panthers to a Super Bowl, two NFC championship games and three playoff appearances, compiling a 5-3 postseason record. He is the franchise leader in passing attempts, completions, touchdown passes and 300-yard passing performances.


   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2009 at 02:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (48)

Fox breaks long silence about Peppers

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DANA POINT, Calif. -- If rock stars make loads of money, why can’t football players?

   In essence, that was coach John Fox’s take on the $16.683 million tender offer the Panthers had to make to defensive end Julius Peppers to franchise him and keep him off the free agency market.

   Barring a trade, the tender means Peppers will play for more than $1 million per game next season – a number that doesn’t faze Fox.

   “I don’t get into salaries,” Fox told reporters at the NFL owners’ meetings. “I don’t know what Elton John makes or Bono makes. I’m sure they make pretty good numbers, too.”

   Fox talked more extensively about Peppers Wednesday than anyone in the Panthers’ organization has since Peppers first went public in January that he preferred to play elsewhere next season.

   Fox dismissed speculation in some NFL circles that the Panthers need to trade Peppers to get his high salary off of their salary cap. Truth is, Peppers is scheduled to count only 20% more than his 2008 cap number of just under $14 million.

   “Is Tom Brady’s cap number a burden (to the Patriots)? Is Eli Manning’s (a burden to the Giants?” said Fox. “I don’t know. It’s just part of what we do. Everybody has a cap number.

   “I don’t know what number (Peppers) was last year, but it had to be close (to the ’09 tender). I was comfortable with that. I don’t like getting into what people make, but he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player who I’ve been comfortable with for seven seasons.”

   Peppers and his agent, Carl Carey, have said Peppers wants to play for another team next season. They hoped the Panthers wouldn’t franchise him and now prefer a trade, but only to a small list of teams. It appears the only teams he’d agree to play for who have the salary cap room and draft currency to potentially made a move to acquire him are the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.

   Fox wouldn’t say whether or not he expects Peppers to be back with the Panthers.

   “Let the system play out,” said Fox. “I can’t lean one way or the other. … We’ll see how it works out.”

   When asked how the Panthers would go about replacing Peppers if he’s traded, Fox said:

   “In this league, things change every season. You anticipate changes. Sometimes they happen and you adjust. If (Peppers staying) doesn’t work out, we’ll have some kind of (draft-pick) currency and we’ll have to adjust from there.”

   But Fox made it clear he does not expect any difficulty if Peppers remains with Carolina. There has been speculation that Peppers would be so unhappy that it would be unhealthy for team chemistry.

   “Not at all,” Fox said when asked if he thought having Peppers would cause problems. “He never has. I don’t know why it would start now.”

   Peppers and Carey have said they believe Peppers has come close to maxing out his potential in the Panthers’ defensive system and they think he’d have a better chance of reaching his full potential elsewhere. If those comments stung Fox, he didn’t show it Wednesday.

   “No, because maybe I feel like I’m maxed out,” Fox said, speaking tongue-in-cheek. “The difference is there are contracts. That’s professional sport. You can’t just do what you want when you want.

   “That (Peppers’ position) doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t sting me. … That’s this league.”

   Regardless of whether Peppers has reached his full potential with the Panthers, Fox said Peppers has had “a terrific career,” which includes four Pro Bowl appearances.

   “If he was my son,” said Fox, “I would be proud of him.”

   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2009 at 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (73)

March 24, 2009

Pats owner discusses Peppers, well, not really

A few notes from the NFL annual meetings in Dana Point, Ca.:

-- Of the 32 NFL head coaches, 31 are here at the owners' meetings. The one missing is New England's Bill Belichick, so we aren't able to ask him about the Julius Peppers situation. However, owner Bob Kraft is here and he wouldn't touch the subject. Just so you'll know what he said, here was his response when asked about Peppers:

Q: People are pining for information about Julius Peppers, and the Patriots have been mentioned with him a lot. Given your teams' salary structure, is (a trade for him) something that is feasible? Could that work? Could you see it happening?

A: We never negotiate in the papers. We like to try to execute and not talk about it. So we don't talk about it. Sometimes there are agents or teams -- our name is constantly in the news, so we don't react to it.

-- Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell said he's very happy to have signed former Panthers unrestricted free agent linebacker/special teamer Adam Seward late last week. For now, Caldwell said he believes Seward gives the Colts a strong, athletic, very capable backup behind starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett.

-- Buffalo coach Dick Jauron gave a glowing analysis of new center Geoff Hangartner, another Panthers free agent. Hangartner is now penciled in as the Bills starter.

Said Jauron:

"Liked everything about him. Liked where he is in his career. Liked his experience. We were without a center going into the offseason. We were looking for a starting center that could grow with our team. Really liked his versatility. I liked him at guard. I liked him better at center, so (we're) really happy about that. Really liked his demeanor when he came in -- spending time with him, sitting with him, having dinner with him. The guys all went out to dinner. They all really liked him, (and) liked his intelligence.

"I think we're getting a real good player and a real good guy. He fits us, we hope and we believe."

-- Denver coach Josh McDaniels made it clear the Broncos have no intention of trading disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler and that they're working now to heal the relationship. Cutler was upset that McDaniels wanted to trade him in order to acquire QB Matt Cassell from New England. Cassell wound up getting dealt to Kansas City, leaving Cutler extremely upset and the Broncos with a messy situation on their hands. McDaniels not only said he thinks the situation is salvageable, but that he expects Cutler to be his quarterback five years from now.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 24, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

March 20, 2009

Belichick talks Peppers -- unprompted

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was interviewed on a Boston radio station on Thursday. He brings up the Julius Peppers situation, without being asked.

That's remarkable in itself, but Belichick also goes on to explain what it would take for a team like the Patriots -- who reportedly have had interest in Peppers -- to go about obtaining a franchised player like Peppers. But Bellichick also stressed the Patriots have not been in trade talks with the Panthers about Peppers.

"They can't trade him without him signing a contract," Belichick says of the Panthers and Peppers. "The best way for him to get on the trade market with Carolina is for him to tell them, I don't want to be be here, but we can't talk to anybody (about a trade) without a signed contract."

Belichick also explained that the Panthers can receive compensation for unrestricted free agent Peppers if he receives and accepts an offer from another team. 

-- Free agent tight end Jeff King has accepted the Panthers' one-year tender of $1.545 million. It's a second-round tender, according to King's agent, Rick Smith, meaning the Panthers would have been compensated with a second-round draft choice had King accepted an offer from another team. King was a fifth-round pick in  2005.

-- David Scott

Posted by Observer Sports on March 20, 2009 at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (64)

March 18, 2009

KR Jones to Titans

Panthers unrestricted free agent Mark Jones has agreed to terms with the Tennessee Titans, according to the Nashville City Paper. The Titans moved to secure him quickly after their free agent kick returner, Chris Carr, signed with Baltimore. The Panthers have several candidates to be their kickoff and punt returner next year, led by Ryne Robinson, who was injured last season. Others include Kenny Moore.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2009 at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (38)

March 17, 2009

Analyzing the Peppers situation: Teams interested, Trade unlikely

   There’s plenty of smoke in the air involving a possible trade of Julius Peppers to the New England Patriots, but is there fire?

   And what’s really going on?

   It’s likely that no one – even those most closely involved – know for certain where the Peppers saga is headed, but we’ll try to analyze the most likely possibilities here:


    1) First of all, other teams are inquiring about Peppers despite the fact that he bears the Panthers’ franchise tag.

   “I have talked to general managers of other teams in the NFL and there is interest in Julius,” Carl Carey, Peppers’ agent, told the Observer Tuesday night.

   Carey declined to identify those teams.


    2) Despite the interest, it will be difficult to get a perfect match that lands Peppers with one of the four teams on his preferred list, with a satisfactory contract for him and trade compensation acceptable to Carolina.

   As a result, the percentages still strongly favor Peppers playing with the Panthers next season under a one year-tender of $16.683 million.

   The Panthers consistently have said they want to keep Peppers. They’re not going to let him go at a bargain price, certainly not a mere second-round pick (34th overall) as suggested Monday in an NFL.com report.

   Carolina officials would have preferred Peppers not saying he wanted to leave in the first place, but he remains the anchor of their defensive line and it would be extremely hard to replace him with anyone comparable to his abilities.

   As for the huge amount he’d count against their 2009 salary cap, remember that he counted almost $14 million against their cap last year, so it’s not anything they’re not used to or haven’t planned for.

   They would not have given him the one-year tender if they weren’t willing to stand by it. They didn’t tag him to trade him. They tagged him to keep him. Their entire philosophy is to draft well and, if that happens, keep their core players long-term. That includes Peppers, even at the high price.


   3) The Panthers should not be – and almost certainly aren’t – close-minded about trading Peppers if a substantial offer becomes available.

   This is an organization that has a history of keeping all reasonable options open, and that’s no different now. But “reasonable” doesn’t mean charitable. General manager Marty Hurney and owner Jerry Richardson aren’t about to let an elite player get away for anything less than top value.

   Any deal they’d even consider probably would have to approach what Minnesota gave Kansas City last year for franchised defensive end Jared Allen – a first-round pick and two third-rounders.


   4) If Peppers is traded, the best guess here is that it will be either to New England or Philadelphia.

   A source close to Peppers acknowledged that he is interested in New England, making the Patriots and Dallas the only identified teams in his “Big Four.”

   The Patriots play a 3-4 defense, which intrigues Peppers, and have lots of draft ammunition to use if they choose. They have a first-round pick and three second-rounders, including the 34th overall selection.

   Philadelphia also makes sense. The Eagles have a traditionally strong and creative defense, and they need help at defensive end. Plus, they have the cap room and two first-round picks in this year’s draft – the 21st and the 28th, the latter obtained from Carolina last year in the trade that allowed the Panthers to draft tackle Jeff Otah in the ’08 first round.

   Philadelphia runs a 4-3 defense, but Peppers has said he’s not wed to playing in a 3-4. What he wants most is to be in a system that he believes will put him in position to be at his disruptive best as a pass rusher and playmaker.

   Also, keep in mind that the Eagles’ coaching staff coached the NFC Pro Bowl team that featured a stellar performance by Peppers (a sack, an interception and three tackles).

   Though we haven’t confirmed that Philadelphia is one of Peppers’ four teams, it is known that the two other teams after the Patriots and Cowboys are in the NFC – but not the NFC South. The Eagles play in the NFC East.

   As for the Cowboys, it’s very hard to imagine Peppers landing there. Dallas has limited cap room and is trying to negotiate a new contract to make all-pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware the highest paid defensive player in the league.


   5) The notion that Peppers will be miserably unhappy if he plays for Carolina again is grossly exaggerated. Even if he doesn’t get want he wants, he can stay next season and earn more than $1 million a game.

   Plus, even though the Panthers aren’t his first choice, they’re certainly not last on his list either. In case you didn’t notice, he smiled a lot last season.


   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 17, 2009 at 10:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

March 16, 2009

Panthers: No Peppers deal, or talks

Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney denied an Internet report Monday that the Carolina Panthers were working on a trade to send defensive end Julius Peppers to the New England Patriots for a second-round pick, 34th overall.

Furthermore, Hurney said he was unaware of any activity involving Peppers and other teams.

An NFL.com story indicated Carolina and New England were hoping to complete the trade sometime between next week's owners' meetings in Dana Point, Calif., and the draft in late April.

“By the rules of the (collective bargaining agreement), we cannot and have not had any conversations with other teams about Julius,” Hurney said in a statement. “Under the non-exclusive franchise tag, Julius and his agent, Carl Carey, are within their rights to talk to other teams about a potential contract. However, at this point, we are not aware of any such conversations.”

Carey did not return telephone messages.

Peppers' contract expired following the 2008 season, after which he and Carey said he wanted to move to another team. They said he was especially interested in playing in a 3-4 defense, which the Patriots employ.

Peppers and Carey were hoping the Panthers would not use their franchise tag on Peppers and instead allow him to become an unrestricted free agent. But the team tagged him just hours before the deadline last month after signing All-Pro left tackle Jordan Gross to a multi-year contract.

The Panthers have consistently said they want to keep Peppers, whose contract tender as a franchise free agent is counting $16.683million against the team's 2009 salary cap.

The team has very little salary-cap room, but seems willing to keep Peppers at that price. He counted nearly $14million against the Panthers' cap last season, when he had a career-high 141/2 sacks and was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl.

The CBA allows Peppers to talk to other teams, who could sign him to an offer sheet. The Panthers would have the right to match the offer sheet, or reject it and receive two first-round picks in return.

There also have been instances when teams have agreed to less compensation in trades involving franchise players, but the Panthers so far have been steadfast about the CBA's trade terms for franchise free agents.

   -- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 16, 2009 at 06:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (113)

March 15, 2009

`Buyer beware' sign clearly on Cutler

Why do so many Panthers fans want the team to trade for disgruntled Denver QB Jay Cutler? First of all, it's not going to happen. Beyond that, do you really want him given some of his behavior of late?

Last season, he declared his arm was stronger -- "hands down" -- than John Elway's. Even if that's true -- and it's not -- why would he say that, especially as the quarterback of Elway's former team? It wasn't even remotely wise and gave a strong hint of potential trouble. Elway is a Hall of Famer with two Super Bowl titles. Cutler is just getting started.

Now, he and his new coach are feuding. Cutler is looking very little like a team leader right now. Mel Kiper Jr. may have a point in saying he might be another Jeff George.

Face it, Cutler is not the kind of guy who fits the Panthers' leadership mold. Say whatever you want about Jake Delhomme, he's accountable and doesn't try to trump his teammates or other players -- past, present or future.

-- Charles Chandler

Posted by Observer Sports on March 15, 2009 at 09:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (144)