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March 27, 2013

Panthers sign former Giants LB Chase Blackburn

It didn't take long for the Panthers to use some of their extra spending money.

Former New York Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn agreed to a two-year deal with Carolina, his agent Richard Katz said Tuesday. 

Blackburn, an eight-year veteran, spent his entire career with the Giants and current Panthers general manager and former Giants executive Dave Gettleman.

He brings with him experience, versaility at the linebacking position and two Super Bowl rings, something that was lacking from last year's Panthers locker room.

Last season he played in 15 games and tallied three sacks and 61 tackles.

The Panthers have their starting linebacking corps set with Thomas Davis at weakside, Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly at middle and Jon Beason at strongside. Earlier this month Carolina cut James Anderson, the former starting SLB.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 27, 2013 at 06:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (68)

Jordan Gross restructures deal to help Panthers with cap space

Veteran left tackle Jordan Gross has taken one for the team.

The former first round pick entering his 11th season took a pay cut this offseason to help Carolina with its salary cap situation while picking up a contract extension through 2017.

According to an Associated Press report, Gross' base salary of $8.7 million for 2013 will be cut to $1 million, and his $6.7 million base salary in 2014 will be cut to $1 million. 

Though his base salary goes to $1 million for 2013, Gross will still receive a salary of $5.5 million by virtue of a $4.5 million signing bonus on his extension, according to ESPN.com.

Gross, who was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season, is the second-longest tenured Panther in the locker room and holds the franchise record for most career starts with the team (151). Gross will make $1 million in base salary from 2014-2017 and will receive a roster bonus of $2 million in 2014, according to ESPN.com.

The Panthers were between $1 to $2 million under the cap before Gross took his cut. The move takes Gross' cap figure for 2013 from $11.7 million to $4 million and gives the Panthers nearly $7 million more in cap room.

“I’ve given 10 years to the Panthers and the Panthers have given 10 years to me. And nobody wants this organization to win more than I do,” Gross told the Observer earlier in March. “I’d love to be a part of the equation for success in 2013. This is just something that has to get worked out.”

The deal now opens the door for the comfort of another free-agent signing or two and the room to sign their draft picks, of which they have five for April's draft.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 27, 2013 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

March 25, 2013

TE Kellen Winslow Jr. says Panthers have expressed interest

Eight-year veteran and former Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. said Monday the Panthers have expressed interest in him.

Winslow was on NFL Network's NFL AM show Monday morning and said a handful of teams have been in touch.

“I’ve heard from the Raiders, the Panthers, the Browns,” Winslow said. “I think I could fit in anywhere though. I’m a mismatch. I’m basically a basketball player playing tight end.”

Winslow played under former Panthers offensive coordinator and current Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski on two occasions at the University of Miami and with the Browns. But a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer states the Browns are uninterested in Winslow.

Winslow, drafted No. 6 overall in 2004, played four years in Cleveland and three in Tampa Bay. He had a stop in New England last season where he made just one catch.

Knee problems have slowed Winslow's career, which had a promising future before a motorcycle accident in 2005 set him back. 

Greg Olsen enters next year as the Panthers No. 1 tight end after grabbing a career-high 69 catches for 843 yards last season while leading the team in receiving touchdowns with five. Carolina re-signed TE Ben Hartsock to a one-year deal this offseason and allowed Gary Barnidge to walk in free agency. Barnidge signed with Chudzinski in Cleveland earlier this month.

The Panthers, and QB Cam Newton particularly, flourished with two tight end sets in 2011 with Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Though Olsen enjoyed a career-best year in 2012, the Panthers could be looking to get a pass-catching tight end to play the No. 2 role since Hartsock is more of a blocking tight end.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said he wants the team to have a more vertical passing game, and Winslow has 438 catches for 4,848 yards and 23 touchdowns in his career. 

And Monday afternoon, he tweeted a promise that he will catch 100 passes this season, which would be 11 more than his career-high in one year.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2013 at 04:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

March 20, 2013

Panthers agree to terms with free agent safety


As they did a year ago, the Panthers are bringing in a safety who is getting his first chance to be a starter.

They hope it goes better than the Haruki Nakamura signing.

Former Oakland safety Mike Mitchell said Wednesday he has agreed to terms on a 1-year deal with Carolina. Mitchell, who spent his first four seasons in Oakland, is the third free agent acquisition by new Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman, all of whom have been defensive backs.

Mitchell will compete with Nakamura and D.J. Campbell for the starting spot at strong safety.

“Whoever's there, I'm ready to compete against,” Mitchell said. “Really the opportunity was just to good. They said the best man was going to play.”

Mitchell, 25, started nine games in Oakland, where he backed up Tyvon Branch. In 60 games, Mitchell had 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.

Nakamura signed with the Panthers last offseason after backing up Ed Reed in Baltimore. Nakamura lost his starting job after giving up a couple of crucial big plays, and took a pay cut this winter.

The Panthers could lose another member of their secondary.

Free agent nickelback Captain Munnerlyn has been offered a 1-year deal from Chicago, according to a league source. Munnerlyn has said his preference is to re-sign with the Panthers, who could try to match the Bears' offer.

--Joseph Person



Posted by Observer Sports on March 20, 2013 at 06:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (26)

Rivera excited about prospect of signing Ginn


Panthers coach Ron Rivera did not hide his excitement about the prospect of acquiring receiver/returner Ted Ginn Jr., a free agent who visited the Panthers this week and left with a contract offer.

Ginn, who played with San Francisco last season, also reportedly has an offer from Cincinnati.

“Ted came in and did a nice job. I know our guys really spoke highly of his visit,” Rivera said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast at the league meetings.

“The interesting thing about Ted is he gives us some depth at wide receiver who can challenge for playing time opportunity. But also he's got special teams value, which is big.”

Ginn, 27, a first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2007, has six career touchdown returns – three on punt returns and three on kickoffs.

“He's an explosive guy coming off the line of scrimmage, too,” Rivera said. “So there's some huge pluses for us as far as hoping to be able to bring a guy like that into the fold.”

The Panthers used Armanti Edwards, Joe Adams and Armond Smith as their kick returners after Kealoha Pilares went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in November.

Adams, a fourth-round pick last year, lost his spot as the primary punt returner after he fumbled twice in a Week 3 loss to the Giants.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on March 20, 2013 at 01:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

March 19, 2013

Panthers add another CB in Spartanburg native D.J. Moore

Training camp will look really familiar to cornerback D.J. Moore this summer.

The Spartanburg native, entering his fifth year in the league, signed a one-year deal with the Panthers. He announced the news via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

Moore said he grew up as a Cowboys fan, but always pulled for the Panthers, too. He likes the makeup of the current roster.

"Everybody on that team is young and up-and-coming pretty much. So the sky is pretty much the limit," Moore told the Observer in a phone interview. "Last year a break here and there, and the team would have been 10-6 instead of (7-9). I feel like it's a good situation."

Moore, a former All-American at Vanderbilt, spent his first four seasons with the Chicago Bears. He tallied 10 interceptions and two touchdowns while with the Bears, including a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown against Cam Newton and the Panthers in Week 4 of the 2011 season.

He said he was hoping to land a multi-year deal, but chalked it up to the soft market for corners. Moore said if he plays well, he could sign a long-term deal with the Panthers next year.

Moore is just the second free agent the Panthers have acquired this offseason as general manager Dave Gettleman continues to deal with the team's salary cap woes. Ten-year cornerback Drayton Florence, also a one-year deal, was the other signee after the Panthers released long-time cornerback Chris Gamble.

The move could also speak to the Panthers' plans with CB Captain Munnerlyn. The four-year cornerback was one of the team's top targets in re-signing this offseason, but according to league sources he turned down a three-year, $5 million offer from the team earlier and talks were still ongoing Monday night.

Moore plays both cornerback and nickel, the same role Munnerlyn has occupied since Sean McDermott took over as defensive coordinator in 2011. 

Moore said he and McDermott clicked during the player's visit to Charlotte on Tuesday.

--Jonathan Jones and Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 19, 2013 at 04:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 18, 2013

Gettleman can relate to fans' frustrations


Attention, Panthers' fans: Dave Gettleman feels your frustration.

The Panthers' first-year general manager is frustrated, too.

Taking over a roster that was about $16 million over the salary cap when he was hired in January, Gettleman has spent most of his first free agency as GM cutting players and getting the Panthers below the $123 million cap.

The Panthers released three defensive starters – CB Chris Gamble, LB James Anderson and DT Ron Edwards – while re-signing three backups and/or special teams players.

Their lone acquisition has been Drayton Florence, a 32-year-old cornerback who started three games for Detroit in 2011.

But Gettleman said he has a plan, and talked about the need for patience.

“You can't print money. Everybody in the league knows we're up against it. We're trying to figure it out, and we have a plan,” Gettleman said Monday at the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore.

“It's just about patience, it really is. Believe me, we are just as frustrated as anybody else by our current situation. However, there's answers out there and we have a plan that I feel good about. When it's over, it's going to be fine.

“We live in an instant gratification society, and I get all that. But at the end of the day, this takes time.”

Gettleman did not offer details about that plan, but indicated the Panthers will be more active in the second wave of free agency as the market cools and players' salary demands decrease.

“The bottom line is it's a buyer's market. We get that. But at the same time we want to be respectful and you don't want to anybody in your building that's upset over getting a low number,” Gettleman said. “We're just trying to be thoughtful and a little bit maybe for some, too methodical. But we're going to be thoughtful and methodical about how we operate.”

The Panthers made offers to two defensive starters – cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards – that the players believed were unsatisfactory. The agent for Munnerlyn, who became a bigger priority with the release of Gamble, is scheduled to talk with the Panthers again Monday night, according to a league source.

Gettleman said he thought the Panthers had a “puncher's chance” to re-sign one or both of the players.

Gettleman would not discuss the contract status of veteran left tackle Jordan Gross, who was asked to take a pay cut to help the Panthers' cap situation.

Gettleman said it was awkward cutting Anderson and Gamble because he did not know either player.

By cutting Anderson, the Panthers are putting their faith in veteran linebacker Jon Beason, who has been limited to five games due to injuries since signing a five-year, $51.5 million contract extension two years ago.

Gettleman said he is confident Beason, who is coming off knee and shoulder surgeries, will hold up for an entire season.

“We're pleased with his progress. He's working extremely hard. He's a professional, and he wants to play,” Gettleman said. “At the end of the day Jon Beason's a football player. That's what he wants. He's working very hard at his rehab and we're very confident that he'll be fine.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2013 at 05:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

No progress in Edwards' negotiations


There has been no movement in the contract negotiations between the Panthers and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who said last week Carolina offered him a 1-year deal.

According to a league source, the offer was $1.5 million, which is what Edwards made last season when he finished with six sacks, the most by a Panthers defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins had seven in 2002.

Edwards signed with the Panthers in September after Buffalo cut him at the end of the preseason. Despite missing two games with a wrist injury, Edwards was second among NFC defensive tackles in sacks, behind Ndamukong Suh (8).

Edwards said he has a two-year offer from at least one team, and seems inclined to take one of those if the Panthers don't add more money or a year to the deal.

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2013 at 02:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (17)

Agent for Greg Hardy approaches Panthers about contract extension


The agent for Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy has approached team officials about a contract extension before Hardy enters the final year of his rookie deal.

Hardy, 24, had a breakout season in 2012 when he finished with 11 sacks, 23 quarterback pressures and two forced fumbles. Hardy, a sixth-round pick from Ole Miss in 2010, is set to make $1.35 million this season after hitting his salary escalators in 2012.

Drew Rosenhaus, Hardy's agent, recently initiated contract talks with the Panthers, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

The Panthers handed out a number of huge contracts two years ago to lock up several members of what ex-general manager Marty Hurney called the team's “core.”

Defensive end Charles Johnson received the richest deal in franchise history – a six-year, $76 million extension that included $32 million in guaranteed money.

The spending spree has put the Panthers in bad salary cap position for the next several years. They're currently about $3 million under this year's $123 million cap.

A crowded field of free agent defensive ends has made for a soft market this year. Former Baltimore DE Paul Kruger signed a reported five-year, $41 million contract with Cleveland that includes $20 million in guarantees, while Cliff Avril went to Seattle for two years and $15 million.

Next year's free agent class of defensive ends also includes several established players, including Jared Allen, Justin Tuck and Michael Johnson.

Besides Hardy, the only other potential free agent of note for the Panthers in 2014 is WR Brandon LaFell.

 --Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

March 15, 2013

Derek Anderson re-signs with Panthers

As Cam Newton's backup, Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson doesn't get on the field much.

But the former NFL starter and one-time Pro Bowler knows and likes his role in Charlotte. And the Panthers like Anderson.

The 29-year-old free agent signed a 1-year contract Friday to return to Carolina for a third season.

It's the third such 1-year deal the Panthers have given Anderson, who was a starter for parts of five seasons with Cleveland and Arizona.

Terms were not disclosed, although Anderson made the veteran minimum of $825,000 last year.

Anderson went to the Pro Bowl with the Browns in 2007, when Rob Chudzinski was Cleveland's offensive coordinator. As the Panthers' offensive coordinator the past two seasons, Chudzinski was instrumental in bringing Anderson to Charlotte.

So when Chudzinski became the Browns' coach in January, there was speculation Anderson would join him in Cleveland. Anderson fueled the talk with a Facebook post about taking care of some “unfinished business” with the Browns.

But he ended up back in Charlotte, backing up the durable, 6-5, 245-pound Newton.

Anderson has played in four games in two years with Carolina, completing all four of his passes for 58 yards. When Newton was out for several plays in a Week 17 win at New Orleans last season, Anderson came in and moved the offense efficiently until Newton returned.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 15, 2013 at 05:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)