The flip side of Jerry Richardson's plan

The Panthers and DeAngelo Williams have reached agreement on a five-year, $43 million deal. Bob Donnan/US Presswire

Even before NFL owners ratified their end of the labor agreement last week, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson called his shot.

He stood in a hotel near the Atlanta airport and, in a rare interview, told the media his team would be aggressive in free agency, especially when it came to keeping its own players. That was music to the ears of Carolina fans, who hadn’t seen much spending out of the team in recent years.

The music just got a lot louder. The Panthers have agreed to terms to keep running back DeAngelo Williams. The deal is for five years and is worth $43 million with about $21 million in guaranteed money. That comes fewer than 24 hours after the Panthers announced they had an agreement with defensive end Charles Johnson, who reportedly can earn up to $72 million. Oh, and don’t forget the fact the Panthers also have agreed to terms with former Kansas City defensive tackle Ron Edwards on a deal that’s worth $8.25 million.

So, in less than a day, Richardson has committed to spending more than $120 million. And the day’s not over yet. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers reach agreements to keep linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis, and don’t be surprised if they complete deals with some free agents for other teams.

The lock is off Richardson’s checkbook and we’re seeing the flip side of what made for a painful couple of years in Carolina. The Panthers didn’t sign a single unrestricted free agent in 2009 or 2010 and they let several key players, mainly Julius Peppers, leave. They also let coach John Fox hang in limbo and that resulted in a painful 2-14 season in 2010.

I know Richardson didn’t want to go 2-14, but it was all part of his plan. He knew back in 2008 that a labor dispute was ahead as soon as the owners opted out of the old agreement. He refused to lock up long-term money on players or coaches because he wanted to protect his franchise and the hundreds of people who work for him who aren’t players or coaches.

It resulted in some rough times for the fans. But those days are over. Richardson’s spending and coach Ron Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney are targeting the right players.

By keeping Williams, the Panthers should have one of the best backfields in the league. Yeah, they probably could have survived if they let Williams walk because they have Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. But the prospect of Stewart and Goodson scared me. Stewart’s great when healthy, but he has a foot issue that dates back to college. Goodson’s a nice player, but isn’t a true No. 1 back and the Panthers could have been facing that possibility if something happened to Stewart.

Besides that, Williams is the best of the three. He’s an all-around back who can run inside or outside and catch passes out of the backfield. He also is a popular figure in the locker room.

Pretty amazing that a team that sat on its hands much of the past two seasons is suddenly the most active franchise in the NFC South. But that’s what happens when there is 10 years of labor peace on the horizon.