Panthers ready to get back to work
Published 1:07 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2011
CHARLOTTE — With the NFL lockout officially over, the Carolina Panthers have plenty of work to do before heading to training camp Friday at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.
That includes attempting to re-sign unrestricted free agents like defensive end Charles Johnson and running back DeAngelo Williams, as well as signing No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Auburn, and deciding whether to trade wide receiver Steve Smith.
“We have spent a lot of time trying to prepare for when this day arrives and now it’s time,” general manager Marty Hurney said Monday after players voted to approve a settlement with the owners. “There are huge challenges in front of us. And we’ve been preparing for them. Now it’s time to get to work.”
Hurney didn’t discuss the team’s strategy, but did reiterate the team’s primary goal in free agency is to re-sign its core players.
Along with Williams, the team’s all-time leading rusher, and Johnson, who had 11.5 sacks last year, the Panthers must also decide what to do with six other starters from last year’s team who are also unrestricted free agents — quarterback Matt Moore, linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson, cornerback Richard Marshall, defensive tackle Derek Landri and tight end Jeff King.
The Panthers can sign Newton beginning Tuesday, but have to wait until Friday to add free agents to their roster.
NFL.com reported Newton is expected to earn a contract estimated at $36.3 million over five years, which is less than half of what last year’s first-round draft pick Sam Bradford is scheduled to make over the next six seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Bradford inked a deal worth $78 million, including $50 million in guaranteed money.
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who was instrumental in negotiating a settlement between owners and players, said last week he doesn’t anticipate a problem getting a deal done with Newton.
As for Smith, Richardson said it’s unclear what the Panthers will do with their all-time leader in touchdowns.
“I have no idea,” Richardson said of Smith’s future. “I love Steve, but I will be honest with you, Steve has not been in the forefront of my mind.”
Smith has previously said he wanted to discuss his future with his family, but has not said publicly if he plans to return to Carolina. He has two years left on his current contract at an average of slightly more than $7 million per season.
As for the end of the lockout, players were quick to respond on Twitter.
“Great job on both sides of the table to get the deal done!!,” wrote Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen. “Time to work.”