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March 31, 2014

Panthers hire John Ramsdell as offensive assistant

The Panthers have hired longtime NFL assistant coach John Ramsdell to serve as a senior offensive assistant.

Ramsdell fills the vacancy created when former offensive quality control coach Lance Taylor left to take a position at Stanford.

Ramsdell, 59, worked with Philip Rivers as San Diego's quarterbacks coach from 2006-2012 when Panthers coach Ron Rivera was a Chargers assistant.

Ramsdell spent 11 years in St. Louis in a variety of offensive roles from 1995-2005 -- a stretch that included the Ram's Super Bowl season of 1999 with an offense dubbed the 'Greatest Show on Turf.'

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 31, 2014 at 11:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

March 28, 2014

Should Panthers go after DeSean Jackson?

The Panthers need a No. 1 wide receiver.

There's a good, young one now available following the Eagles' decision to release DeSean Jackson today.

But as was mentioned here last week, the Panthers had little interest in acquiring Jackson in a trade. And that was before this week's revelations in a report by NJ.com that Jackson has ties to two L.A. gang members who have been connected to two homicides since 2010.

The Panthers cut Steve Smith, the franchise's all-time leading receiver and one of their most popular players, in part because general manager Dave Gettleman viewed him as a distraction and didn't want him to negatively impact the team's young receivers.

The two wideouts the Panthers signed last week -- Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood -- were praised by former coaches at the league meetings this week for being players of good character.

"He's not low-maintenance," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said of Cotchery, the former Steeler. "He's no-maintenance."

Gettleman said Cotchery and Underwood were signed in part because of their reputations as being good locker room guys.

"We have created a winning culture downstairs and we want to keep that, and improve upon it. And that was important. That's part of it. It's part of the decision all the time," Gettleman said. "Because very frankly, you have to count on the guy showing up everyday and working hard everyday. If you can't count on that, what's the point?"

NJ.com also reported the Eagles had concerns about Jackson's attitude, his inconsistent work ethic, missed meetings and a lack of chemistry with coach Chip Kelly.

Gettleman said every move he makes sends a message to the locker room.

What kind of message would it send if the Panthers sign a player with a diva reputation and known gang ties whom the Eagles just jettisoned after one of his best seasons (82 receptions for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns)?

Someone will take a chance on Jackson, who likely will have to take a one- or two-year deal at a discounted price.

But don't expect it to be the Panthers.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 28, 2014 at 01:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (40)

March 26, 2014

Ron Rivera questions Steve Smith's speed, ability to stay healthy


ORLANDO -- A day after Baltimore coach John Harbaugh expressed confidence that new Ravens receiver Steve Smith can still get open deep, Smith's former coach didn't sound so sure.

"He doesn't have the top-end speed like he used to, but he still has good speed," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday at the annual league meetings.

Rivera spoke publicly for the first time about the release of Smith, the franchise's all-time receiving leader who was cut March 13 following 13 seasons in Carolina. Smith, who turns 35 in May, signed a three-year deal with the Ravens a day after the Panthers cut him.

Rivera echoed general manager Dave Gettleman's comments from Tuesday when he said parting ways with Smith was a football decision.

Smith saw his production fall off in 2013. His yards-per-catch average dropped nearly 5 yards to 11.6 yards per reception, his lowest average since 2007.

In addition to mentioning Smith's decline in speed, Rivera also said several times he thinks Smith needs to tone down his approach to practice in order to get through a season healthy.

Smith missed only one game last season, sitting out the Week 17 finale at Atlanta with a sprained knee. Smith sustained the non-contact injury the previous week against New Orleans while running a slant route.

He rehabbed his knee and scored the Panthers' only touchdown in the playoff loss to San Francisco. But he was shut out in the second half when the 49ers adjusted their coverage.

"Steve will still find ways to make plays," Rivera said. "And as far as football decisions go, we have to move on eventually. This was an opportunity to do it."

Replacing Smith might be more difficult. Rivera conceded the Panthers don't have a true No. 1 receiver. But Rivera said he's more concerned about replacing the collective 10 catches a game the Panthers with the departure of Smith and the three wideouts lost in free agency -- Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 26, 2014 at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (79)

Video: Ron Rivera talks about cutting Steve Smith

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera talked with reporters while in Orlando, Fla., for the NFL owners meetings. He discussed reactions to cutting wide receiver Steve Smith.


Posted by Observer staff on March 26, 2014 at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

March 25, 2014

Gettleman: Panthers will use fifth-year option on Newton


While reiterating that Cam Newton remains the Panthers' franchise quarterback, general manager Dave Gettleman said the team will use the fifth-year club option to keep Newton under contract through at least 2015.

Newton, the first No. 1 pick to sign under the new collective bargaining agreement, agreed to a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $22 million in 2011.

Under the new CBA, teams control the fifth year for first-round picks at a controlled price. For the top 10 picks, the fifth-year salary is the average of the top 10 players at their position.

Teams have until May 3 to exercise the fifth-year option.

"We're in conversations on that now," Gettleman said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

Asked if he expected to use the option on Newton, Gettleman said: "The short answer is yes. That's a fair statement."

Gettleman indicated the moves the Panthers are making now -- or those they're not making -- are with future salary caps in mind.

In addition to locking up Newton with a long-term deal, the Panthers also have to create space to keep middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with the team.

"The bottom line is, when we draft and the coaches develop the player and he's a four- or five-year guy, we don’t want to look at each other and say, ‘I can’t believe we can’t sign this guy," Gettleman said. "It’s about Cam, it’s about Luke, it’s about the two young defensive tackles if they keep developing. It’s about any of them."

Gettleman also addressed several other key personnel topics:

--He was noncommittal about the future of free safety Charles Godfrey, who has a $7.1 million cap figure and is coming off Achilles surgery. Gettleman said Godfrey first has to get healthy and is part of the team's evaluation process.

--Gettleman called right tackle Byron Bell a natural left-handed tackle who has played the position in practice and during the preseason. The Panthers are looking for a replacement for left tackle Jordan Gross, who retired in February.

--Gettleman didn't have any updates on the negotiations on a long-term deal with DE Greg Hardy, who signed his franchise tender and is under contract for a guaranteed $13.1 million this season.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

Mike Tomlin praises new Panthers WR Jerricho Cotchery as a player, leader


There's been a lot of talk about "diva" receivers the past couple of weeks.

Philadelphia is not finding any trade partners for wideout DeSean Jackson, who carries a $10.5 million price tag this year and a reputation of being high-maintenance.

The Panthers were willing to cut ties with Steve Smith, the franchise's all-time receiving leader, in part because general manager Dave Gettleman viewed him as a distraction.

On Tuesday morning at the AFC coaches breakfast at the owners meetings, this was Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin's first response to a question about new Panthers and former Steelers wideout Jerricho Cotchery:

"He's not low-maintenance," Tomlin said. "He's no-maintenance."

Tomlin praised Cotchery, the former N.C. State wideout who signed a two-year deal with the Panthers last week, as "a good football player, but better than that a good man."

At another table 10 yards away in a banquet room at the Ritz-Carlton, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said he had no concerns about Smith's attitude after the Ravens signed him to a three-year deal.

"Steve is going to be a leader. I love where he's at. What he was telling me about his plans for enhancing our team and our organization were just exactly the things that I wanted to hear and expected to hear," Harbaugh said.

"He's got a plan. He understands our culture to a degree and I think he sees where he fits in as a veteran coming into the  program, as opposed to the guy that's been there all the years. I'm pretty excited about it."

While Smith's yards-per-catch average fell by nearly 5 yards last season to 11.6 yards per reception, Harbaugh believes the 34-year-old Smith can still get open deep.

"I saw him catch the deep balls. So when he had a chance, when he was running a (go) route or a (post) route, and he was even with the defender, he was leaving (him) still," Harbaugh said. "He was able to accelerate and go make the catch. If he does it, that means he can still do it. And that's all we really needed to see."

Cotchery, 31, developed as Ben Roethlisberger's favorite red-zone target last season when he caught a career-high 10 touchdowns. But Tomlin said Cotchery can fill a number of receiving roles.

"Jerricho's the type of guy that he's going to be what you need him to be," Tomlin said. "He's a pro."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 25, 2014 at 09:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

March 24, 2014

Rivera: Newton ankle injury likely goes back to Auburn


When Cam Newton started running and working out at Auburn a few weeks ago, the Panthers' franchise quarterback was still experiencing pain in his left ankle.

Newton had lingering pain in the ankle in previous offseasons, but it dissipated through rest and rehab.

This time the pain didn't go away. So Newton called the Panthers, who advised Newton to come to Charlotte to meet with the team doctors.

A week later Newton was on the operating table, undergoing surgery March 19 to tighten the ligaments in his troublesome ankle.

Newton injured his ankle during a Week 15 win against New Orleans, then re-injured it during the playoff loss to San Francisco in January.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton's ankle issues "probably" date to his time at Auburn, where Newton won the Heisman Trophy and led the Tigers to the 2010 national title during his only season at the school.

"They went through what they do normally. Every year it's been the same thing for the last couple years. This time when he started, after the rest and everything, it wasn't getting as well as fast as it had last time," Rivera said Monday at the NFL owners meetings.

"They went through the (process), looked at it and decided this was the best course of action for him."

Newton is expected to be sidelined four months and will miss all of the organized team activities this spring.

But Rivera said Newton, who is expected to be back for training camp, will have a chance to develop chemistry with the team's new receivers.

The Panthers are in the process of making over their entire receiving corps. They signed Tiquan Underwood and Jerricho Cotchery last week after cutting Steve Smith and losing Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon in free agency.

"There will be a time where they'll get an opportunity to work (with Newton), " Rivera said. "So I'm not really worried about that."

The Panthers also signed former Minnesota quarterback Joe Webb last week. Rivera said the move was about more than having an extra arm behind backup quarterback Derek Anderson during OTAs.

"That's part of it," Rivera said, "but this is a guy that does intrigue us."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

March 21, 2014

Panthers sign QB Joe Webb

Joe Webb has started in as many playoff games as Cam Newton, but don't expect the former Vikings quarterback to usurp Newton's starting job.

The Panthers signed Webb, 27, to a one-year deal on Friday, and Webb becomes the fourth quarterback—and third healthy one—on the team’s roster.

"Joe had a strong workout for us today. He is a young player who intrigues us and has a similar skill set to Cam (Newton)," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. "With Cam sidelined for the spring, it is an opportunity to get a good evaluation of Joe as well as Matt Blanchard, who was on our practice squad last year."   

The Panthers’ top two quarterback positions are set with Newton and Derek Anderson, a former Pro Bowler who re-signed with the Panthers last week for a two-year deal. Webb will compete with Blanchard for the No. 3 spot, as well as serve as the third quarterback for the team during spring workouts while Newton is sidelined recovering from ankle surgery.

Webb, who was an unrestricted free agent, played the past four seasons in Minnesota. Webb has 853 career passing yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. The Vikings selected Webb in the sixth round of the 2010 draft out of Arkansas-Birmingham.

Webb also plays receiver, and last year he caught five passes for 33 yards for the Vikings. But in a press release, the team made it clear it is bringing in Webb to be a quarterback.

Webb is best known for being the emergency starting quarterback in a wild-card game against Green Bay in the 2013 playoffs. Christian Ponder couldn't play due to injury, and Webb went 11-for-30 for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the 24-10 loss to the Packers.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 21, 2014 at 06:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Panthers add another WR with Tiquan Underwood

The Panthers have agreed to a two-year deal with wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, according to a league source.

Underwood, who is entering his sixth year in the league, visited the Panthers on Thursday. He caught 24 passes for a career-high 440 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Bucs.

He’s the latest addition to the Panthers’ receiving corps, which lost its top four receivers to release or free agency last week. Underwood, 27, joins Jerricho Cotchery, who signed a two-year deal with the team Thursday, as the newest Panthers receiver.

A seventh-round pick by Jacksonville in 2009, Underwood was with the Jaguars, Patriots and Bucs before Carolina. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception in 2013, and he will likely compete for the No. 3 receiver position in Carolina.

Underwood also has experience as a kick returner. In 2010 he returned 24 kicks for 561 yards for Jacksonville. Underwood could compete with Kenjon Barner and Kealoha Pilares at training camp for starting kick return duties. 

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 21, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

Cotchery signing gets Marty Hurney's seal of approval

Former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney knows how loud the cries for a wide receiver in Carolina have been, and Thursday he gave his seal of approval for the Jerricho Cotchery signing.

Speaking on ESPN’s NFL Insiders, Hurney praised the Panthers for inking Cotchery to a two-year, $5 million deal.

“I think for starters it probably calms the building down and people who are saying they don’t have a veteran receiver,” Hurney said. “I think it’s an excellent signing. He’s a big, smart slot receiver, basically, who has very good hands. I think he’ll be a weapon for Cam Newton. Now you have Greg Olsen at tight end, Cotchery at slot. Now they go out and draft some speedy receivers, and I think Dave Gettleman and the Panthers have a plan and that’s so important this time of year. This is a very good signing.”

A small sample size of my Twitter mentions would show Panthers fans would want other questions asked and answered, most notably answering for big running back contracts. While ESPN didn’t touch on that topic, Hurney was asked about drafting a quarterback at No. 1.

Hurney talked about the difficulty of predicting a quarterback’s success in the league and the process the Panthers went through to select Newton No. 1 overall in 2011.

“This is a quarterback league, and you do not win without a quarterback,” Hurney said. “You start at quarterback, we went through quarterbacks and said, ‘Is there anyone who has the potential to be a franchise quarterback?’ The more we got to know Cam the more we got investigate him, we felt very good that he could be our franchise quarterback.”

The Texans have the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and may take a quarterback. It’s a similar decision Houston faced in 2002 when Hurney was with the Panthers, who had the No. 2 pick that year.

The then-expansion Texans made it clear early on they would take quarterback David Carr with the No. 1 overall pick, leaving the Panthers having to figure out if they wanted North Carolina’s Julius Peppers at No. 2.

The decision 12 years ago mirrors this year, where the Texans could go quarterback or take South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

“What frustrates people sometimes (about Peppers) is you don’t necessarily see it play in and play out, but it’s very rare to find players of that ability that can make game-changing plays like he can,” Hurney said.

“What is being said about Clowney was being said exactly about Julius Peppers… We had two months knowing we were on the clock. The question was Julius Peppers play with the motor, does he have the energy? We had to bring in a tape of him playing basketball for North Carolina to show that he did have the intensity.”

Hurney will be back on NFL Insiders today at 3:30.

 --Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 21, 2014 at 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)