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February 28, 2013

Dwan Edwards wants to return to Panthers after "fun" 2012 season

The Panthers' decision-makers indicated last week at the combine they wanted to bring defensive tackle Dwan Edwards back to Charlotte.

The feeling is mutual.

Edwards, who had a breakout season with the Panthers in 2012 after Buffalo cut him, is one of the Panthers' top priorities among Carolina's own free agents. Edwards said Thursday he hopes to return.

“It was fun. It was kind of a situation for me coming in and not knowing the team. I wasn't really sure how it was going to be and what my expectations were. I hadn't heard great things about the defensive line,” Edwards said when reached by phone.

“But throughout the season I could see us getting better and improving. And I really felt we won some games for us.”

Edwards, who turns 32 in May, signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 million with Carolina last year after the Bills released him before the start of the regular season. Despite missing two games late in the season with a wrist injury, Edwards finished with six sacks, the most by a Panthers defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins had seven in 2002.

Only Ndamukong Suh, with eight, had more sacks among NFC defensive tackles.

The Panthers locked down DE Charles Johnson with the richest contract in franchise history two years ago. Carolina will have to make a long-term offer to DE Greg Hardy, who is entering the last year of his deal after his monster 2012 campaign.

With nose tackle Ron Edwards expected to be a salary cap casualty, it's essential the Panthers find a way to get a deal done with Dwan Edwards.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on February 28, 2013 at 04:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

February 26, 2013

Panthers want to get help for Cam & Kuechly

It's officially crazy season in the NFL.

With the combine wrapping up and a couple of weeks before free agency begins, prepare to hear a lot of rumors about Player X going to Team Y, and Team Y drafting Player A, B, C … or Z.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera waded into crazy season Tuesday morning in response to a question from the NFL.com's Steve Wyche, who asked Rivera if the Panthers were interested in Mike Wallace, the Steelers' free agent wideout.

You're warm, but you know, what's going to be interesting is how things unfold once we get to March 12,” Rivera said on “NFL AM” from the combine in Indianapolis.

“There's a lot of things that are out there that we have to really take into consideration. You know, we'll see how things are going to affect us when we get to the 12th.”

Twitter world took the innocuous comment and ran with it.

But here's the thing: You think Rivera would tip his hand on national TV about a particular free agent the Panthers are targeting?

Not a chance.

By “warm,” Rivera was repeating his offseason theme that the Panthers want to surround Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly – their last two first-round picks (take a bow, Marty Hurney) – with players who can help them be successful.

In Kuechly's case, that means a defensive tackle, as I wrote about Tuesday.

In Cam's case, it means either a wideout or offensive tackle – or both – to throw into the mix and groom as long-term replacements for Steve Smith and Jordan Gross.

Could Wallace be a target? Sure.

So could Chris Canty, Cullen Jenkins, Cordarrelle Patterson and Lane Johnson.

But the Panthers first need to create about $10 million in cap space.

That's a hot-button issue, not just “warm.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 26, 2013 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (24)

February 23, 2013

Panthers plan to keep DeAngelo Williams

INDIANAPOLIS

The Panthers want to keep their highly-paid, backfield tandem intact.

Despite being about $10 million over the projected $122 million salary cap, the Panthers hope to keep both running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

Williams, 29, is due to make $5 million this year and a has a cap figure of $8.2 million.

The team believes it can retain Williams at his current numbers. But a restructuring is possible depending on the team's other moves prior to the March 12 start of the league year, the source said.

When the Panthers signed Stewart to a five-year, $36.5 million extension last August, there was speculation Carolina would not be able to afford both backs. Green Bay was among the teams who inquired about Williams before the trade deadline, but he remained in Charlotte and re-claimed his starting spot after Stewart went down with ankle issues.

Williams, the franchise rushing leader, rushed for 737 yards and five touchdowns last season. He ran for a club-record 210 yards in a Week 17 win at New Orleans.

Stewart, 25, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle in January after missing seven games with issues with both ankles. He finished 2012 with 93 carries for 336 yards and a touchdown.

The Panthers signed free agent fullback Mike Tolbert to a four-year, $10 million deal last winter. Tolbert's seven rushing touchdowns and his 27 catches were the most among the team's backs.

Stewart's contract was recently re-worked to convert future option money into guaranteed base salaries, a move that was not made for cap purposes.

Asked this week at the scouting combine whether the Panthers could keep both Williams and Stewart, first-year general manager Dave Gettleman said: “Can we keep both of them? Again, decisions have to be made. I don't see why not.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera referred questions about the running backs to Gettleman.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 23, 2013 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (15)

February 22, 2013

Chud happy to have Turner in Cleveland

INDIANAPOLIS

New Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski has built a reputation as an innovative offensive play-caller.

But one of the biggest calls Chudzinski made this winter was to former San Diego coach Norv Turner, who agreed to join him in Cleveland as the Browns' offensive coordinator.

League sources say Turner and Chudzinski were a package deal from the start. All Chudzinski, the Panthers' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, would say is Turner was in high demand and he's glad he ended up in San Diego.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who, like Chudzinski, worked with Turner in San Diego, was among those interested in Turner.

“There were a lot of people that I'm sure were making calls to Norv. One of the things I had to do was reach out and put my recruiting hat on with Norv,” Chudzinski said Friday at the scouting combine. “He's a special guy and a special coach. I'm just excited we were able to get him.”

Rivera promoted quarterbacks coach Mike Shula to replace Chudzinski after interviewing former head coaches Hue Jackson and Pat Shurmur. Rivera also wanted to talk to Ken Whisenhunt, but he was pursuing head-coaching opportunities after Arizona fired him.

Whisenhunt ended up in San Diego as Mike McCoy's offensive coordinator.

Chudzinski said he's spoken to Shula only briefly since leaving for Cleveland.

“I think Mike will do a great job. He was a big part of what we did there,” Chudzinski said. “He's been around. He's done it before. He's called plays. I think he'll do a great job.”

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on February 22, 2013 at 11:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

February 21, 2013

Despite cap woes, new GM says Panthers can contend

INDIANAPOLIS

Despite facing a daunting salary cap situation, first-year general manager Dave Gettleman believes the Panthers can contend this season.

“I don't see why not,” Gettleman said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.

Having spent the past month evaluating the roster, Gettleman said the Panthers have talent. But the first order of business will be getting under the cap by the start of the league year March 12.

The Panthers are about $10 million over the projected $122 million cap.

“The first thing we have to do is make March 12 and get there. It's a puzzle,” Gettleman said. “There's obviously going to have to be some work done. It's no secret. The bottom line is everybody knows we're over the cap and we've got to get there.”

Gettleman would not say how he plans to get there, declining comment when asked whether veteran cornerback Chris Gamble would be a cap casualty. Cutting Gamble would create $7.9 million in cap space.

Gettleman, who turned 62 on Thursday, said he needs to think long-term “so we're not standing here talking about” cap problems the next few years.

Gettleman believes there is a strong nucleus, pointing to quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen, center Ryan Kalil, defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Charles Godfrey.

Gettleman said veteran left tackle Jordan Gross “is still a player,” but gave a bit of a mixed message when asked whether the Panthers could keep both of their highly paid running backs – DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

“Can we keep both of them? Again, decisions have to be made,” Gettleman said. “I don't see why not.”

Gettleman said the Panthers have reached out to a few of their unrestricted free agents, and mentioned defensive tackle Dwan Edwards as someone they would like to re-sign.

--Joseph Person

 

Posted by Observer Sports on February 21, 2013 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

February 15, 2013

Making monetary sense of Panthers' moves

While Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and other team officials have been visiting Raleigh looking for funding for stadium upgrades, general manager Dave Gettleman and the front office have been dealing with their own money matters.

The Panthers have restructured the contracts of two offensive starters – center Ryan Kalil and running back Jonathan Stewart.

Kalil's restructuring, first reported by former Observer reporter Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com, was written into the contract extension Kalil signed in 2011. It frees up $3.45 million in salary cap space for the cap-squeezed Panthers.

Carolina is still about $10 million over the projected $121 million cap, so there is more work to do. A big piece of the process is the expected release of veteran cornerback Chris Gamble, who has a cap figure of $10.9 million.

Stewart's deal, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, was not reworked for cap purposes: It actually raised his cap figure by a little more than $200,000.

By converting option bonus money into guaranteed base salary, the Panthers demonstrated more evidence that they plan to stick with the younger Stewart and cast further doubt on franchise rushing leader DeAngelo Williams' future with the team.

The Panthers still have $9.6 million in pro-rated bonus money tied up in Williams. But if they were to designate Williams as a June 1 cut, they could split that over the next two years.

The $3.2 million hit this year would create $5 million in cap savings.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 15, 2013 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (31)

February 12, 2013

Panthers might build a practice bubble

Somewhere John Fox is smirking.

The former Panthers coach used any rainy day during his nine years as a Charlotte as an avenue to mention the team's need for an indoor practice facility. Now that Fox is in Denver, the Panthers are talking about building a practice bubble.

An indoor facility is fairly far down the priority list on the team's nearly $300 million renovation plan, but it's on there. Panthers president Danny Morrison said Monday the team would like to build it in “close proximity” to Bank of America Stadium, although the Panthers don't own any of the adjacent land.

Fox used to take his team to a private indoor facility in north Charlotte to escape the rain. The Panthers have practiced in a ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center a couple of times in Ron Rivera's two seasons.

The Panthers have $30 million earmarked for an indoor practice facility and other “team areas,” including the locker room, meeting rooms and coaches' offices.

By Morrison’s estimation, the Panthers would use the facility for 10 percent of their practices (Charlotte has an average of 110 days a year with precipitation). Morrison said the team would like to find other partners – youth leagues? – to share the facility.

Morrison would not say whether those leagues or teams would share in the cost.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 12, 2013 at 12:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

February 08, 2013

Cole back in NFL with Panthers

The Panthers' first free agent signing of the Dave Gettleman era is a defensive tackle who has been out of the NFL for two years.

Colin Cole was cut by Seattle before 2011 season and has not played since. The Panthers signed him Thursday to provide depth and competition at a position where Dwan Edwards is an unrestricted free agent and Ron Edwards could be a salary cap casualty.

Cole, 6-2 and 328 pounds, is expected to line up at nose tackle, where Frank Kearse ended last season as the starter after Ron Edwards went on injured reserved with a dislocated elbow.

Cole was born in Toronto, played at Iowa and spent his first five NFL seasons in Green Bay as a backup. He was a starter in Seattle before going on injured reserve in 2010 with a serious ankle injury.

He began training camp in 2011 on the physically unable to perform list and was among the Seahawks' final cuts that summer. Cole, who will be 33 when camp begins, has 218 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 84 career games.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 8, 2013 at 09:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (27)

February 07, 2013

Cam Newton leads Auburn student section at Auburn-Alabama basketball game

Cam Newton went back to school trying to blend as just another student.

Wednesday night, he was leading the War Eagle cheer and screaming into a megaphone at the Auburn-Alabama basketball game.

The Panthers quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner at Auburn has been back at school for nearly a month as he works to complete his sociology degree. (Video below via YouTube.)

 

After the game, Auburn coach Tony Barbee joked he could have used 6-foot-5, 250-pound Newton on the court. But really, Barbee didn't need him.

The Tigers upset Alabama 49-37 in Barbee's first win against the Crimson Tide in five tries as coach.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on February 7, 2013 at 12:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

February 05, 2013

Analyzing the Panthers' staff changes

Ron Rivera kept his job, but several of his assistants did not.

After Rivera fired three staff members, he and the Panthers received a jolt when offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski bolted for the Browns.

With Rivera putting the finishing touches on his re-made staff Tuesday by hiring assistant special teams coach Bruce DeHaven and offensive quality control coach/assistant receivers coach Lance Taylor, it's worth looking at where the Panthers' staff improved, stayed the same or took a step back.

Offensive coordinator: There's a segment of Panthers fans who believed Chud was crazy for running the zone-read option, the same scheme San Francisco used to get to the Super Bowl. Chudzinski might have gotten too cutesy at times, but he's a gifted play-caller who will be missed.

The Panthers were smart not to hit the reset button with a new offense, and former quarterbacks coach Mike Shula knows the scheme as well as anyone. Shula's track record an an NFL play-caller is suspect, although he worked with a pair of sub-par quarterbacks in Tampa Bay in Trent Dilfer and Shaun King.

Rivera is banking that Cam Newton – and 15 additional years of experience – will make Shula more successful in his second stint as a coordinator.

Quarterbacks: When the Panthers hired Ken Dorsey as a pro scout two years ago, it was assumed the former University of Miami and Browns quarterback would join the coaching staff at some point. Dorsey knows Newton well, having worked with him – along with former Panthers QB Chris Weinke – at IMG during the lockout.

Special teams: Rivera interviewed a couple of veteran special teams coaches in Bobby April and Dave Toub before both were hired elsewhere. So Rivera promoted Richard Rodgers – the interim special teams coordinator last season after Brian Murphy was fired – and brought in DeHaven to assist him.

This looks like a good combination. Unlike Murphy, Rodgers is popular among Panthers' players and did a good job last year.

But he's still inexperienced as an NFL assistant. Enter DeHaven, who has 26 years in the league and last season led a Buffalo special teams unit that was first in the league in punt returns and fourth in kick returns.

Running backs: The Panthers upgraded by bringing back Jim Skipper, Carolina's assistant head coach under John Fox who has the respect of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Like DeHaven, Skipper has a wealth of NFL experience.

Receivers: Rivera was confident former Panthers WR Ricky Proehl was ready to run the receivers room after he assisted Fred Graves for two seasons. Graves was Steve Smith's position coach at Utah, and helped Brandon LaFell develop into a dependable No. 2 wideout.

But Proehl brings more energy to the position. He'll be assisted by Taylor, a former Appalachian State assistant who played for Shula at Alabama.

Linebackers: Warren Belin had no NFL experience when Rivera hired him on Sean McDermott's recommendation two years ago. Al Holcomb, who replaced him, has only a little more than Belin and has never been a position coach.

But Holcomb comes from the Giants, so new GM Dave Gettleman knows him and obviously likes him.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on February 5, 2013 at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)

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