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March 27, 2015

Did Panthers drop the Ball?

The Alan Ball-to-Carolina deal wasn't done after all.

A week after the free agent cornerback visited the Panthers -- and a couple of media outlets reported he had signed with Carolina or was about to -- Ball signed a one-year deal with Chicago on Friday, the Bears announced.

League sources told the Observer last week the two sides had discussed contract parameters for a one-year deal worth $2 million, with $1 million guaranteed.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman indicated at the owners meeting that Ball and free agent wideout Greg Jennings, who also visited Carolina last week, wanted to make sure the Panthers were a good fit.

"Think about it this way, Alan's a 29-year-old veteran. Greg Jennings is 32. They don't want to become gypsies. Both of those guys are married. They're grounded, good people," Gettleman said in Phoenix.

"For both of them, the fit is really important. So we kicked the tires on each other, that's what we did."

Ball grew up in Michigan and played collegiately at Illinois. It sounds like it was mostly a case of him returning to his Midwestern roots.

“I’m excited,” Ball told the Bears' web site. “I’m honored actually. Being in Detroit growing up, watching the Bears my whole life, going to the University of Illinois, I’m honored to be here.”

The prevailing thought was by signing Ball, the Panthers could move second-year corner Bene' Benwikere to nickel back full-time.

And while playing inside against a slot receiver might be Benwikere's best position, Gettleman said Benwikere has shown he has the speed to match up with receivers on the outside, as well.

"People get caught up in 40-yard dash times. We evaluate guys based on play speed. And the proof's in the pudding," said Gettleman. "He has the play speed to be outside. But it's a competition and the best guy plays. Obviously, we know he can play the nickel and he's good at it."

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 27, 2015 at 01:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

March 23, 2015

Panthers awarded two compensatory picks

PHOENIX -- The Panthers picked up a pair of compensatory picks Monday -- a fifth-rounder and a sixth-rounder -- in the NFL's annual awarding of draft picks for free agents gained and lost.

With the two compensatory picks, the Panthers have a total of nine selections in the draft, which is April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.

The NFL determines compensatory picks based on a formula that weighs the salary, playing time and postseason honors for free agents teams acquired and lost the previous offseason.

The Panthers lost receivers Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. (since re-acquired) and Domenik Hixon and defensive backs Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn.

They signed cornerback Antoine Cason, receiver Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Ed Dickson.

All-time leading receiver Steve Smith signed with Baltimore after the Panthers cut him, so he did not factor into the comp pick formula.

Three times the Panthers have received three comp picks, most recently in 2011. They have been awarded a total of 16 in their history.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 23, 2015 at 09:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 19, 2015

Jones: A look at Gurley's potential fit with Panthers

Todd Gurley is in Charlotte visiting with the Panthers today, making the former Georgia tailback one of the first visits Carolina has had this draft season.

A Tarboro native, Gurley called the Panthers a “great organization” after UGA’s pro day Wednesday. Carolina gets 30 in-house visits, so Gurley isn’t the first, last or only player the team will talk to. Could he be the pick for Carolina at No. 25 in April’s draft?

Gurley the player: He was second-team All-SEC as a freshman running back, which is almost unheard of, after rushing for 1,385 yards. In 2013 he had 989 yards after missing three games with an ankle injury. And last season, despite missing seven games (more on that later), he still had 911 rushing yards.

Last year’s season opener against Clemson proved Gurley was the best running back in the nation. He had 198 yards on just 15 carries while scoring three times. His speed and power are unmatched in this draft class, and really any of the recent drafts as well.


He may still be the top running back taken in the draft, but he may not be due to…

Injury history: Along with the ankle in 2013, Gurley tore his ACL against Auburn in November. Gurley told reporters Wednesday he plans to be healthy and ready to perform at an NFL minicamp in June.

That timeline may be a bit optimistic. On the low end, ACLs usually take eight months to recover from. If a team spends a first-round pick on Gurley, they’d likely tell him to take June off, rehab, and be ready to go for training camp in late July and early August.

He did not allow doctors to examine his knee at the combine. When teams, like Carolina, bring in a player for an in-house visit, they can do medical exams on players.

No doubt if Carolina is serious about Gurley, his knee will be examined and re-examined.

Character concerns: The NCAA suspended Gurley for four games mid-season last year for accepting $3,000 in exchange for signing memorabilia. While that gets you suspended in college, the NFL cares not about that.

What’s it say that a young man was trying to profit, as he should, from his celebrity? It means he’s doing what every student-athlete should be able to do. As for the counterargument of “he put his team in jeopardy for being selfish”? This instance doesn’t translate to the professional level. Also, read up on how Gurley was found out because of a spurned Florida fan.

Gurley’s fit in Carolina: The Panthers just released their all-time leading rusher, leaving them with Jonathan Stewart and Fozzy Whittaker as their top-two backs. Stewart and Whittaker have both dealt with injuries throughout their career, and the Panthers have shown their willing to take a running back in the draft after selecting Tyler Gaffney in the sixth round last year.

Stewart and Gurley both possess a speed-power blend, so putting them together in 2015 may not make sense. But what about the future? Stewart carries a cap hit of $9.5 million and $8.2 million in 2016 and 2017, much more than what Gurley would be on a rookie deal.

The big question is: will Gurley even be available at 25? Before the ACL tear he was the best running back in the draft, and in my estimation he still is. Yes, taking a 20-year-old with a repaired knee with a first-round pick is dangerous, but turn on this guy’s tape and you’ll see that if he can get back to that—or even close to it—he’s worth it.

The running back position has been devalued in recent drafts. Last year, no running back was taken until Bishop Sankey with the 54th overall pick. That won’t be the case this year with Gurley and Melvin Gordon.

Dave Gettleman’s best-player-available philosophy would be put to the test if the surgically-repaired Gurley is there with the Panthers on the clock at 25. In my opinion, there wouldn’t be anyone better.

--Jonathan Jones

Posted by Observer Sports on March 19, 2015 at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (25)

March 18, 2015

Former teammate says Hardy 'unmanageable' at times

With former Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy reportedly set to choose between Tampa Bay and Dallas on Wednesday, one of his old teammates had a "buyer beware" message for Hardy's new team.

Ex-Panthers tight end Ben Hartsock, while praising Hardy's playing ability, told a Dallas radio station the embattled free agent could be "unmanageable" at times in Charlotte.

“The Greg Hardy that was on the field was going to be a nightmare for the opposing team. But then you go in and everybody is in the hot tub or the cold tub after practice just shooting the breeze and the guy carries on a very reasonable, level-headed inquisitive type of conversation," Hartsock told ESPN 103.3, via ESPN.com's Todd Archer.

"Then there are other times when he's just unmanageable. And that's why I think things have gotten in trouble with his personal life. He's going have to go a long ways to earn the trust of any organization, whether it be Dallas or any other franchise across the league. His reputation has now become an Achilles heel."

Hardy, still awaiting word from the NFL on a possible suspension for his domestic violence case, was benched for the start of at least two games in Carolina for being late to meetings and/or practice.

He also wrecked his motorcycle in 2011, and tweeted a photo of him apparently driving his Bentley 100 mph.

Those lapses in judgment paled in comparison to the allegations made by ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder, who says Hardy threw her around his condo and tossed her on to a futon covered with semi-automatic weapons during an altercation last May.

The charges were thrown out when Holder, who received a settlement from Hardy, failed to show up for the jury trial in February.

Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards told the Observer last week he understood the Panthers' decision to part ways with Hardy, saying "it's bigger than football sometimes."

Now Hartsock is sounding his own cautionary note on a player who had 15 sacks in 2013 during his last full season.

"Like I said, there aren't many people like him on the planet that can play and that can do the things that he does," Hartsock told ESPN 103.3. "But we are also in an NFL environment right now where any off-the-field liability is frowned upon very strongly.”

--Joseph Person


Posted by Observer Sports on March 18, 2015 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

March 03, 2015

DT Colin Cole re-signs with Panthers

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman makes no secret about his affinity for big linemen -- and he's bringing back one of the biggest on the roster.

Defensive tackle Colin Cole has re-signed with the Panthers on a one-year deal worth $1.05 million, a league source told the Observer on Tuesday.

ESPN's John Clayton was the first to report the signing.

Cole, 6-2 and 330 pounds, has been part of the Panthers' interior line rotation the past two seasons. And though he turns 35 in June, Cole was out of the NFL for two seasons before the Panthers signed him in 2013.

Dwan Edwards, another member of the defensive tackle rotation, also is set to become a free agent next month.

Edwards' agent has met with the Panthers, and it's possible the 33-year-old Edwards returns, as well.

Cole and Edwards are the veterans of a group that includes third-year tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, Carolina's first- and second-round picks in 2013.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on March 3, 2015 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)