Carolina Panthers: J.J. Jansen

Beginning today is an 11-part series on where the money is for the Carolina Panthers.

You'll see how much the Panthers are spending at each position under the 2014 salary cap, where that ranks in the league and get a complete breakdown of what each player will count under this season's cap.

This will give you an idea of how general manager Dave Gettleman has structured the team financially heading into training camp.

As of today, the Panthers have $6,067,076 in cap space, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Gettleman set this aside in case injuries force him to sign other players as was the case last season when he added guard Travelle Wharton after camp or in case players he deems valuable from other teams become available once cuts begin.

Gettleman also wants to keep money available to be in position to sign quarterback Cam Newton, defensive end Greg Hardy and others to long-term deals as their current deals approach expiration.

With that, let's get to the position-by-position breakdown, beginning with special teams:

Total position spending: $3,739,670

Spending vs. league average: 26

Breakdown:
 
Analysis: No big surprise here. The Panthers rewarded kicker Graham Gano for a solid 2013 season with a four-year extension worth $12.4 million. It's a reasonable investment for a team that will rely heavily on its kicker as it plays a field position, ball-control game. Gano was 6-for-6 on field goals of 50 or more yards last season, setting a franchise record and tying the NFL high. His 77.8 touchback percentage was the NFL's highest since 1994. At 26, this secures a key player for a reasonable price. Punter Brad Nortman at his current price is a steal considering he set a team record for gross punting average and net yards last season and was the NFC's special teams player of the month for December when the Panthers needed his kicks to win critical games to clinch the NFC South title. Deep snappers often get overlooked, but not J.J. Jansen, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl year. When you consider 25 teams are paying their special-teams players more, this is a solid investment.
Beginning today is a position-by-position analysis of the Carolina Panthers roster.

This hopefully will help you better understand the needs general manager Dave Gettleman and the coaching staff will be looking at next week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis and in free agency that begins on March 11.

First up: Special teams

2013 grade: A. Arguably the strength of the team after the defense, ranked second in the league.

Under contract (2014 salary cap number): Punter Brad Nortman ($589,670); deep snapper J.J. Jansen ($980,000).

Key free agents: Place-kicker Graham Gano; kick returner Ted Ginn Jr.

Good news: The Panthers are set with one of the league's best punters and deep snappers in Nortman and Jansen, a coach's selection to the Pro Bowl. Carolina was one of the league's best all season at covering punts and kickoffs, one of the many reasons the defense ranked second in the NFL in points allowed. Statistics show the longer the field the less likely a team is to score. Nortman was a big reason with single-season records for gross punting (47.6) and net average (41.6).

Bad news: Gano would like to return, but as he told me after the season he will do what's best for his family financially. The Panthers will have only so much room under the salary cap to re-sign a kicker, even one that had the highest touchback percentage (79.7) on kickoffs since 1994 and was six for six on field goals of 50-plus yards. Many of the players that were key on the cover teams also are free agents, including linebacker Jordan Senn.

The draft: When looking at needs like wide receiver and cornerback -- two of the biggest needs on the team -- players that have a college history of contributing on special teams will be a plus. Most players don't come in and start at a position right away, so they have to earn their keep through special teams. Ginn, albeit a veteran, is a prime example. The Panthers signed him last year primarily as a kick returner and he became arguably the second best wide receiver.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn't making any promises, but he believes Sunday's Pro Bowl will be more than just a pillow fight as last year's game has been described.

Payton
Rivera
Rivera and his staff will coach a team selected by honorary captain Jerry Rice in the first-ever Pro Bowl draft against a team coached by the Indianapolis staff with Deion Sanders as the honorary captain.

Rivera said the mixing of AFC and NFC players for the first time should help add intensity to a game that has lacked it in past seasons.

"The players understand what's at stake in terms of we need to come out there and we need to show who we are as far as being football players," Rivera said by phone on Friday from Hawaii. "It's been a heck of an experience. I'm excited about it.

"I just hope it's a good show."

Rivera wasn't all that thrilled about having to make the trip after Carolina lost 23-10 to San Francisco in an NFC divisional playoff game two weeks ago. He was more eager about looking to the future.

But the trip's been fun, and he realizes it's an honor and tribute to the organization and his staff for what was accomplished during a 12-5 season that surpassed many expectations.

Rivera's only regret now is that he'll be coaching Sunday against his two signal-callers in quarterback Cam Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Kuechly already has been assigned with calling defensive signals for Sanders' team. Newton will be the second quarterback out for Team Sanders after Indy's Andrew Luck.

"The thing that's disappointing to me is having my two signal callers on opposite sides," Rivera said. "But the one thing that does please me is Greg Hardy is on the opposite side, so I don't have to worry about him running into Cam."

Hardy, who led Carolina with 15 sacks, was also selected by Sanders. That means Newton won't have to avoid being tackled by the player who calls himself "The Kraken," a player who earlier in the week told me he doesn't plan to take it easy on anybody.

Long snapper J.J. Jansen also is on Sanders' team, but Rivera does have three of his own players in left tackle Jordan Gross, fullback Mike Tolbert and center Ryan Kalil.

"It's going to be different," Rivera said of the game. "But I look forward to it."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Would you take Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck or the Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton if you were starting an NFL team?

Assuming, that is, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady aren't available.

Hall of Famer Deion Sanders answered that question -- sort of -- on Wednesday by selecting Luck over Newton with the first pick on the second day of the inaugural Pro Bowl Draft.

The honorary captain also took Newton, with his second pick, after Hall of Famer Jerry Rice passed on the opportunity to pair Newton with the Carolina coaching staff. The honorary captain for the Ron Rivera-coached team selected New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham with his first second-day pick.

Of course, having Saints quarterback Drew Brees on his selection committee might have swayed that one.

But regardless, Luck went before Newton. And in reality, that likely would have happened in 2011 had the former Stanford quarterback come out after his sophomore season when he was projected to be the top pick to Carolina.

But amidst speculation that he didn't want to go to Carolina -- which he never confirmed -- Luck returned to Stanford and the Panthers chose Newton out of Auburn.

The Panthers really coveted Luck. There were reports they would take him No. 1 before he opted to stay in school.

So in reality, Sanders kept Rivera from getting Luck a second time -- not to mention getting Newton.

Sanders also made sure Newton wasn't being chased by Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg "The Kraken'' Hardy. He drafted Kuechly in the eighth round and Hardy, who led the team with 15 sacks, in the 11th.

Left tackle Jordan Gross, a late addition when the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Staley pulled out due to injury, went to Team Rice in the 18th round.

The Panthers have seven players in Hawaii, tying the team record set in 1996. On Tuesday, Rice picked Carolina center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert.

Rivera had a chance to take a third member of his team, but chose Indianapolis long snapper Matt Overton instead of J.J. Jansen.

Thanks to Sanders he didn't have that option with Newton, who by the way did go ahead of San Diego Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, Kansas City Chiefs' Alex Smith, and the Philadelphia Eagles' Nick Foles.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera will have a good place to start when it's time to go "Riverboat Ron'' in Sunday's Pro Bowl.

Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, the captain for the team Rivera and his Carolina staff will coach, picked Panthers center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert during Tuesday's first-ever Pro Bowl draft.

That gives Rivera the perfect place to start up the middle if he decides to gamble on fourth-and-1 as he did so many times during the season to earn the nickname "Riverboat Ron.''

"Very happy,'' Rivera said during the draft televised live on the NFL Network.

Rivera had a chance to take Carolina long snapper J.J. Jansen, but instead took Indianapolis' Matt Overton. Colts coach Chuck Pagano, paired with Hall of Fame captain Deion Sanders, in turn took Jansen.

Or maybe letting Jansen go to the opposing team was part of Rivera's strategy.

"It's one of those things where J.J. will do the right thing,'' Rivera said with a wry smile during the broadcast.

Rice will have a shot at four other Panthers on Wednesday night as the draft continues. Joining Kalil, Tolbert and Jansen in Honololu are quarterback Cam Newton, left tackle Jordan Gross, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy.

Wouldn't it be fun to see Hardy, aka "The Kraken,'' go after the quarterback he can't touch in practice? Or to see Kuechly stuff Tolbert on a "Riverboat Ron'' dive up the middle?

Stay tuned.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross will get that "romantic getaway" in Hawaii with center Ryan Kalil after all.

Gross was added to the Pro Bowl roster after San Francisco tackle Joe Staley withdrew with an injury. He hopped on a plane with his family on Tuesday for Hawaii, where Sunday's annual all-star game will be played.

It will be Gross' third trip to the Pro Bowl, and possibly his last depending on whether the Panthers opt to re-sign him or he opts to retire. As of Tuesday, he still hadn't had conversations with the team regarding his future.

As I made clear my opinion last week, the Panthers need to bring Gross back for his leadership as well as his talent.

Gross, 33, initially was invited to go to the Pro Bowl with Kalil as a guest, but said he couldn't justify going on a "romantic getaway and leave my family at home."

Now he gets the getaway and the family gets a vacation.

Carolina now will have seven players in Hawaii, tying the team record set in 1996. The others are Kalil, quarterback Cam Newton, fullback Mike Tolbert, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Greg Hardy and long snapper J.J. Jansen.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera and his staff are there to coach the Jerry Rice team. The Indianapolis staff will coach the Deion Sanders team.

The event's first-ever live draft will be held Tuesday and Wednesday night. The results from Tuesday's draft will be announced at the beginning of Wednesday's live three-hour show beginning at 8 p.m. ET on the NFL Network.

Twenty-two players -- guards, centers, fullbacks, interior defensive linemen, punters and special teamers -- will be selected on Tuesday.

Remaining players will be drafted or assigned during Wednesday night's show. Each team will get three tackles, two tight ends, three quarterbacks, three running backs, three outside linebackers, two inside linebackers, four cornerbacks, three safeties, three defensive ends, one placekicker and one returner.

So there's a chance Carolina could have Kuechly or Hardy sacking Newton.

Or for Gross, he could be asked to block team sack leader Hardy.

So it won't all be romantic.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Long-snapper J.J. Jansen is the sixth member of the Carolina Panthers selected to the Pro Bowl.

Jansen tweeted his selection as a coach's pick on Wednesday, writing:

Carolina coach Ron Rivera and his staff will coach the team picked by Jerry Rice in the Jan. 26 game. They were selected because the Panthers (12-5) had the best record among the teams that lost in the NFC divisional round playoffs.

Jansen will be joining Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, center Ryan Kalil, fullback Mike Tolbert, defensive end Greg Hardy and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

The first Pro Bowl draft between Rice and Deion Sanders, whose team will be coached by the Indianapolis staff, will be on Jan. 21-22 at 8 p.m. on NFL Network. Players will be put into a draft pool and selected by the two Hall of Famers.

The six Carolina Pro Bowl selections are one shy of the team record set in 1996. Left tackle Jordan Gross could be added as a replacement for San Francisco's Joe Staley if the 49ers beat Seattle in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

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