NFC South: Damione Lewis

There was a lot of outrage in the Carolinas early in the offseason when the Panthers pulled off what some fans called a purge and some called a bloodletting.

The Panthers let go of seven popular veterans and I’m not even counting the fact they simply let Julius Peppers walk into free agency. The cries back in February were that the team was being cheap and dumping salaries. I never truly bought into that because it looked to me like the Panthers were just getting rid of some old guys who they didn’t think were worth their contracts anymore, although I admit I wasn’t a big fan of seeing Brad Hoover pushed out the door.

I stand by all that, but now I feel even stronger that this wasn’t purely a case of owner Jerry Richardson trying to save money. I’ve had a chance to look at and crunch some numbers and I think we can put what Carolina did in the offseason into better perspective.

First off, let’s remember there is no salary cap for 2010. If there was, the Panthers would be sitting at $124 million right now. Here’s the part that’s highly significant -- $29.2 million of that is in what would be called “dead money’’ in a capped year.

What the Panthers did was to decide essentially to dump a lot of future big-cap figures in a year in which there are no cap consequences for that. No one -- not even Richardson, who is heavily involved in the negotiations -- knows what’s going to happen with the labor situation going forward. There’s the possibility of a lockout in 2011. There’s also the possibility an agreement will be reached and a salary cap will be in place.

If that happens, the Panthers are sitting in very good shape. Even if coach John Fox, who is beginning the final year of his contract is gone, whoever is running the show likely will have a ton of cap room to work with.

As it stands right now, the Panthers have just about $70 million committed toward a 2011 cap. Only the Chiefs, Raiders and Buccaneers have less committed and none of them are dramatically below the Panthers. The league average teams have committed toward the salary cap right now is $96 million.

If there’s a cap in place for 2011, I'll guess and say it's likely to be somewhere around $130 million to $140 million and those numbers could be on the low end. That means the Panthers will have at least $60 million to re-sign some of their own key players and go out and get some new ones. That’s not a bad spot to be in.

Now, let’s move on and try to shred one other myth about the “bloodletting.’’ When the Panthers let Hoover, Jake Delhomme, Na'il Diggs, Landon Johnson, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Chris Harris go, it wasn’t totally about saving money.

To start with, the Panthers had to hand Delhomme a $12 million check (money he was guaranteed) when he walked out the door. Diggs was scheduled to make $1.1 million this season and the Panthers had to write him a check for $1.233 million. They had to pay Kemoeatu, who was scheduled to earn $755,000 in base salary, $2.63 million because they didn’t exercise the option on his contract. It was kind of the same deal for Lewis -- he got $1.42 million for not having his option exercised and was only schedule to earn $855,000 in salary and a workout bonus.

In other words, the Panthers paid those guys a lot of money just to go away and get them off the books for the future. In the cases of Hoover, Harris and Johnson, the Panthers saved some money, but, relatively speaking, it wasn’t all that much.

By cutting Hoover, they saved his scheduled $850,000 base salary. Unloading Johnson saved the Panthers just over $2 million. Trading Harris to Chicago pushed his $2 million salary over to the Bears. Theoretically, the Panthers would be taking a $2.145 million cap hit for Harris if there was a cap this year because of pro-rated money.

But Harris, and all the others, are off the books for 2011, when the Panthers conceivably could go out and buy about half an NFL team.

Carolina weakness: Defensive tackle

June, 30, 2010
» NFC South Weaknesses: Falcons (6/29) | Panthers (6/30) | Saints (7/1) | Bucs (7/2)

Steve Smith broke his arm and outside of him, this team has had very little in terms of receiving options of late. Without him, the Panthers will be among the weakest teams in this regard in the NFL -- even with a few rookie pass-catchers added to the equation. It seems as though there is a good chance Smith will be ready for the opener, but even if he is unable to go, the Panthers have a bigger weakness than their pass-catchers.

Even the most casual of fans realize Carolina lost Julius Peppers during free agency, but there is some young talent there in Charles Johnson and Everette Brown. At defensive tackle, Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu are gone, and what remains is frankly very disturbing.

[+] EnlargeLouis Leonard
Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMIThe Panthers traded for Louis Leonard last September, but he played in only two games before breaking his ankle.
As of today, the foursome that should expect to see playing time at tackle consists of Nick Hayden, Louis Leonard, Tank Tyler and Corvey Irvin. And maybe Ed Johnson or Derek Landri will factor in. Seriously? Let me just go on record to say that this is the worst group of defensive tackles in the league, and I am not even sure that dubious competition is close.

I understand you can sometimes get away with tough guys who play hard and hold their ground at this position to help free up those around them, and I understand that several of these guys battled injury last season, but there isn’t a playmaker in this bunch, nor is there a guy who commands a double-team in the run game. Compounding matters for the long term, there isn't a young pup in the group who has yet to develop and is dripping with upside. I really don’t see a lot of hope here.

The Panthers’ run defense wasn’t very good last season. With this group of defensive tackles and now the loss of LB Thomas Davis (knee injury), expect it to be even worse in 2010. If the defense can’t get off the field, it will certainly make playing a ball-control, run-first style on offense all the more difficult.

Around the NFC South

April, 7, 2010
Linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has been looking for a contract extension for more than a year, said he now is approaching the 2010 season as his final one with Tampa Bay. That’s really the only way Ruud, currently a restricted free agent, can handle this right now. It also would help his case tremendously if he goes out and has a big year. Ruud might have been in line for a huge contract last season if he had made some big plays. He didn’t, but that wasn’t really his fault. If the Bucs could add anything close to a quality defensive tackle in the draft, that should free up Ruud to roam and make some plays.

The Falcons sent out a release a bit earlier with the dates and times for all of their preseason games. But they quickly called back to ask that we hold off a bit on the announcement because one of the games was not fully finalized. As soon as we know it’s official, we’ll let you know.

Former Carolina defensive tackle Damione Lewis officially has signed his new contract with New England.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper gives a slight edge to Ndamukong Suh over Gerald McCoy as the top defensive tackle in the draft. I tend to agree with that, but I think the Bucs would be happy to get either one.

Wide receiver Damian Williams reportedly will have a private workout for the Falcons on Saturday. Atlanta’s brass might want to ask Carolina’s brass about receivers from USC before getting too serious on this one.

The Falcons also reportedly will have workouts with defensive linemen Brian Price and Everson Griffen this weekend. Remember, these are just workouts. This doesn’t mean the Falcons are going to draft all these guys.

The Panthers signed kicker Todd Carter. He’s there as a kickoff specialist. If he shows enough leg, the Panthers might let him handle the void left by Rhys Lloyd’s departure. If not, punter Jason Baker is a fallback option to handle that duty.

Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson writes the team was wise to get quarterback Josh Freeman in last year’s draft rather than waiting until this year to take a quarterback. Completely agree, and as Carlson also points out, Freeman is way ahead of anyone in this year’s draft.
John Fox & Marty HurneyIcon SMIPanthers head coach John Fox, left, and general manager Marty Hurney remain steadfast in their approach to building a winning team.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- You've been waiting for the past month or so for the Carolina Panthers to reveal some top-secret plan for re-loading after their offseason purge.

Guess what? There's no big bang coming. The plan already is in place. It's already playing out. No matter how much you want to scream about the departures of Jake Delhomme, Brad Hoover and all the rest and yell for flashy and fresh new troops, this really is nothing out of the ordinary for Carolina.

"Being heroes in March, April and May doesn't matter," general manager Marty Hurney said during a break at the NFL owners meetings. "It's during the season and what you're judged by is winning games. We have to see if we can win games and be successful. But I think we have a lot of confidence in our young players and that's what we're doing in our approach."

There, the hand that Hurney and coach John Fox are playing is on the table. There are no huge free-agency signings coming. There are no blockbuster trades on the horizon and chances are slim the Panthers are going to be jumping up into the first round of the draft.

Like it or not, the Panthers are going with what they have. Seriously. And, really, when you think about it, it's not all that much different than what Fox and Hurney have done throughout their tenure. What happened a few weeks back when Delhomme, Hoover, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Na'il Diggs were released, and Julius Peppers was allowed to walk into free agency, was not the "fire sale" many fans have called it.

"Whatever words you want to use, I think we have a philosophy that's been in place for several years," Hurney said. "I think our nucleus or our identity fits our formula of how we win games and have an identity for our football team. I think the key is to make the necessary changes year in and year out to not lose that identity or that winning formula."

Hurney's got a good point. If you really thought a quarterback who threw way too many interceptions, a couple of ordinary and aging defensive tackles and linebackers and a veteran fullback were the face of the franchise, you're missing the point completely.

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
Bob Donnan/US PresswireThe Panthers say they are prepared to enter training camp with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback.
The Panthers still have a core in place. It's guys like Steve Smith, Jordan Gross, Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Chris Gamble, Jeff Otah, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Since they joined forces in 2002, Hurney and Fox have preached aggressive defense, ball-control offense and building through the draft. Yes, there are some cosmetic changes this offseason, but the big picture really hasn't changed.

"We feel we still possess that identity and that winning formula," Hurney said. "We have good depth on the offensive line. We have good depth at running back. We believe we have one of the best receivers in the National Football League. Yes, we do have a young quarterback. On defense, we lost a very productive defensive end, but we feel like we have young players ready to step in and we feel like our identity on defense still stands."

But Hurney admits there are questions with that young quarterback and at certain spots on defense. Let's start with the quarterback. I specifically asked Hurney if the Panthers really, truly, right hand in the air, are planning on going to training camp with Matt Moore as their starting quarterback.

Even though Hurney admitted the Panthers may do some things to solidify the position in what remains of free agency and the draft, the answer was a strong yes.

"We've seen enough to know he's taken care of the opportunities he's had," Hurney said. "Joe Gibbs always said at the quarterback position, when the lights go on, guys only get a few chances. When a guy gets that chance, he has to step up and take advantage of the opportunities. Matt Moore has done that in the opportunities he's had. That's the gauge for quarterbacks. They have to take advantage of the limited opportunities they have.''

(Read full post)

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 17, 2010
» NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Atlanta Falcons

After making their one splurge into free agency to get Dunta Robinson and re-signing veteran Brian Williams, the Falcons have done a nice job of addressing a cornerback position that once was a big area of need. With those moves, the Falcons have whittled down their significant needs considerably.

The most glaring need is at defensive end and that almost certainly will be addressed early in the draft. John Abraham had a quiet year as a pass-rusher last season and age could be catching up to him. Nobody else stepped forward as a pass-rusher and the Falcons realize they need to get more pressure on quarterbacks. General manager Thomas Dimitroff believes in basing his drafts on need and getting a pass-rusher is critical.

The only other area that can be considered a high need is outside linebacker, but that’s not as dramatic as defensive end. The Falcons have Mike Peterson and Stephen Nicholas as their starting outside linebackers. Peterson is getting older, but still played at a high level last year. Nicholas was solid in his first year as a starter, but the Falcons could consider an upgrade.

Carolina Panthers

Their needs have grown since the start of free agency. The purge of veteran players has left the Panthers with needs in a lot of places. Without a first-round draft pick, the Panthers probably won’t be able to fill all their needs in the draft.

The defensive line, once the cornerstone of a John Fox team, has been gutted. The Panthers have high hopes for Everette Brown and Charles Johnson, but still could look for another defensive end to replace Julius Peppers.

The more glaring need might be at defensive tackle, where starters Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu were released. The Panthers have nothing but projects and journeymen at defensive tackle. Unless they suddenly get more active in free agency, they almost have to find one starting defensive tackle in the draft.

New Orleans Saints

They are the champions and, as a result, won’t draft until the final pick of the first round. The new free-agency rules prevent the Saints from doing much in free agency. Their roster is in good shape, but they still have some needs.

The defensive line is the most prominent need. Starting end Charles Grant was released after the season, and there is a possibility tackle/end Anthony Hargrove could be lost as a restricted free agent. The Saints would like to get a defensive end who can generate more of a pass rush than Grant, and they’d also like to find a solid starter to pair with defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.

But the Saints can’t totally lock in on the defensive line with their first pick because they’ve also got a need at outside linebacker. With Scott Fujita leaving as a free agent, the Saints have some in-house candidates, but there’s no clear-cut replacement. Picking at the end of the first round leaves the Saints at the mercy of the teams in front of them, but it seems likely they’ll take the best available defensive lineman or outside linebacker.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There are needs just about everywhere, and the Bucs are counting heavily on this draft to be a big part of their building process. They have 10 overall picks and five in the first 99. They’ve got the third overall pick in the first round and it seems almost certain they’ll take defensive tackles Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh, if either is available.

After that, they’ve got plenty of other directions they could go. They could take several wide receivers because there isn’t a quality starter currently on the roster. Defensive end also is an area of need because there is no clear starter opposite Stylez G. White.

NFC South mailbag

March, 16, 2010
Scott in Cocoa Beach, Fla., writes: Ari Fleischer to the rescue! Maybe he can talk the Glazers into spending some money on players so they don't come across as the biggest cheapskates in the NFL. Could there be more into Fleischer's hiring than just helping to look and narrow down a field for a Director of Communications position? Since when did Fleischer become a Human Resource Manager?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, the Bucs have hired the former White House PR guru to help them choose a new director of communications. Actually, Fleischer has consulted with other NFL teams, most notably the Dolphins last year, on various issues. Supposedly, they want someone who will oversee all of their PR, including the Bucs, Manchester United and their other business interests. Sounds nice in theory, but I’m sure Fleisher’s fee isn’t cheap and the type of big gun they seem to be seeking likely will have a high price tag. My first thought on all this is why are the Bucs so willing to spend money on PR when they’re not spending it on players? Jeff Kamis, who is leaving as director of communications, was very good at his job and he has an outstanding support staff. Yeah, the Bucs have been taking a PR beating, but that wasn’t because of their PR staff. It was because they were 3-13 and made a lot of questionable moves last year. No PR person could have made chicken salad out of all that. If Fleischer is as smart as I think he is, he should be telling the Bucs to go out and get a couple of wide receivers, a defensive end and a defensive tackle. Fix the football team, win some games and the positive PR will flow no matter who is handing out credentials and press releases.

Robbie in Murphy, N.C. writes: How come no one thinks that Carolina has improved? Matt Moore is an improvement over Jake Delhomme. We all have been thinking that Dan Connor should be starting for Na’il Diggs. Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu were over-rated. So we lost Julius Peppers, so what? He only showed up in about 4 games a year anyway. Nobody knows what we have in the young replacements but we all know that DeAngelo Williams was better than DeShaun Foster, yet it took 2 years for them to finally release Foster.

Pat Yasinskas: Valid points. Moore was an improvement over Delhomme late last year, but we don’t know for sure if he’s the long-term answer. I’m with you on Connor and Lewis and Kemoeatu were “just guys.’’ Peppers had to go for reasons beyond football, but you have to admit the guy could dominate a game when he wanted to and guys like that are hard to find. But I find it hard, right now, to say Carolina has improved. They haven’t added anybody and they subtracted a bunch of guys. As I’ve been saying all along, we need to see the flip side of all this. Whether it’s through the draft or free agency, the Panthers need to plug some of the holes they’ve created. If they do that, then they could end up being better than last year.

Sean in Wilmington, N.C., writes: In your most honest opinion who do you think the Panthers will bring in to compete with Matt Moore? Brady Quinn went to the Broncos after rumors of him possibly ending up in Carolina, but what about Derek Anderson?

Pat Yasinskas: Although Anderson would seem to be a logical fit for the Panthers, I haven’t heard anything to indicate they have shown any interest in him. I think there’s a good chance you could see the Panthers re-sign Josh McCown. They brought him in last year, but he got hurt. He has some experience as a starter and also has some upside.

Mack in Athens, Ga., writes: I think the Falcons are good all around on offense, There have been worse offense's that have won championships. So my question is, do you think the Falcons defense is where they need it to be to make a serious run? I do not. I think we need serious upgrades at safety, LB, and DL.

Pat Yasinskas: I think Atlanta’s defense is a work in progress. The signing of Dunta Robinson gives the Falcons a No. 1 cornerback and they now have good depth at that position. A lot of people tend to forget about defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore. They were Atlanta’s top two draft picks last year, but they got hurt before they could make an impact. They’ll be back this year and I think the Falcons have big plans for them and they should fill some of the needs you talked about. But there still is a need to improve the pass rush with a defensive end and the Falcons also could use some help at outside linebacker. I think you’ll see both those needs addressed early in the draft.
Quarterback hurries, pressures, hits or whatever you want to call them are not an official NFL statistic.

But I was browsing through the “season-in-review’’ packages of all four NFC South teams last night and noticed each team had something in, or close to, this category. Again, it’s not official and these numbers are calculated by assistant coaches after watching film.

Take the numbers for what they’re worth because, in my experience, they’re very subjective. I’ve seen some assistant coaches be very fair with this type of thing (tackle totals are done the same way) and I’ve also seen some inflate the numbers a bit to make themselves and their players look good.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s go through the four teams on this unique category.

Atlanta. The Falcons call them quarterback hurries. Although Atlanta had a disappointing 28 sacks, it doubled the number when it came to hurries. The Falcons had 56. According to Atlanta’s coaching staff, John Abraham led the team with 12 hurries. Jonathan Babineaux had 10, which is a nice number for a defensive tackle, especially when you combine it with his team-high six sacks. Defensive end Kroy Biermann was next with eight hurries. Stephen Nicholas led the linebackers with four hurries. The only other number that really jumped out at me was that defensive end/tackle Jamaal Anderson had four hurries. He didn’t have a sack. But, hey, he at least got close to the quarterback a few times.

Carolina. The Panthers go with the term “quarterback pressures’’ and their numbers are dramatically higher than Atlanta’s. Not sure if that’s a case of Carolina having a better pass rush or the coaches being more generous in their breakdowns. Whatever the case, former Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers was credited with a team-best 35 pressures. Former Carolina defensive tackle Damione Lewis was next with 21. Those guys are gone, but here’s something encouraging for those wondering about the future of Carolina’s defensive line: Defensive end Everette Brown had 16 pressures in a part-time role in his rookie season. Charles Johnson, another guy who now has a chance to be a starter, had 12 pressures in a part-time role. Tyler Brayton, who started last season and seems destined to end up elsewhere as a free agent, had 14 pressures.

New Orleans. The Saints call them quarterback hurries and their coaching staff tabulated 98 of them. Predictably, Will Smith led the Saints with 23. Bobby McCray, who was a backup, was second with 13. End/tackle Anthony Hargrove had 11. Starter Charles Grant had 10. But Grant has been released by the Saints. What stands out most about the Saints in this category is that, although only four guys reached double figures, they had a bunch of other players with a fair amount of hurries. That’s a symptom of the aggressive Gregg Williams defense. New Orleans can bring pressure from anywhere. Safety Roman Harper had eight hurries and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma had seven.

Tampa Bay. Like the Panthers, the Bucs count quarterback pressures, and I think their coaching staff was more than a little generous. According to the coaches, the Bucs had 154 pressures -- that from a team that produced only 28 sacks. Stylez G. White was credited with a whopping 34 pressures. Jimmy Wilkerson, who currently is hanging out there as a free agent was next with 28. The Bucs also credited tackle Chris Hovan (18), end Tim Crowder (13) linebacker Geno Hayes (12), defensive tackle Ryan Sims (10) and the late Gaines Adams (10, before he was traded to Chicago) with double-digit pressures.
We’ll start Wednesday’s series of team-by-team mailbags with the Carolina Panthers.

Scott in Portland, OR writes: What do you think of Carolina as a possible landing spot for Derek Anderson? By the way, I really like your blog as you don't shy away from calling people out when calling out is due or have a problem giving credit when credit is due. You're very balanced in your approach and it's appreciated.

Pat Yasinskas: Flattery will get you everywhere here. Thanks. Onto your main question, which was asked in varying forms by dozens of Carolina fans. First off, I know no official indication the Panthers are interested in Anderson, so I want to emphasize that I’m not reporting they’re going after him. However, it’s logical for us to look at this one from a distance and think it makes a lot of sense. Anderson is a relatively young quarterback with some starting experience. He also spent time with offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson in Cleveland. Anderson still has upside and a change of scenery might be good. I thought Matt Moore played well at the end of last season and he just might be the answer. But I don’t think the Panthers should put all their eggs in one basket. Anderson at least fits the profile of what I think they should look for.

Nick in Raleigh writes: Considering the roster purge that Carolina just made, I was wondering what you thought the trade value of all those players was? I understand that none of them were exactly standouts (with the possible exception of Brad Hoover), but collectively they must have had some value. Couldn't we have sent packages of two or three players out in return for some decent draft picks or even a QB like Kevin Kolb?

Pat Yasinskas: Sounds nice in theory. But guys like Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis and Landon Johnson were all at the back ends of contracts that were back-loaded. Even in an uncapped year, other teams wouldn’t have been willing to trade for aging players with big salaries.

Gary in Katy, Texas writes: As a Panthers fan I'm wondering when we are going to start signing some players to fill some holes? I can understand Jerry Richardson wanting to save money and cut some veterans but we now have holes everywhere. I can't understand why they don't take some of that money they are saving and sign some guys to contracts that won't break the bank but guys who are decent as well.

Pat Yasinskas: I know it seems like the Panthers aren’t doing anything. But hang in there. This is a long process and we still have months of free agency and the draft. I don’t see the Panthers doing anything dramatic. But, over time, they will make some moves to fill those holes. They have to.

Nathan in Cary, NC writes: I do not understand why everyone is so shocked at the cuts in Carolina this offseason. Jake Delhomme is the easiest - his play was just not good enough, and weren't people calling for his head? Now they are shocked? I don't get it. Everyone who was cut, besides Hoover, was an over-the-hill role player. I really do not understand Panther fans. John Fox gets slammed for his loyalty to veterans in 2009, and when he cuts them in the offseason, he gets slammed for that too. Am I missing something?

Pat Yasinskas: Ah, a voice of reason. Glad someone can look at the big picture.

Al in Washington, DC writes: Pat - What's your best guess on Steve Smith's reaction to all this? At 30 he's far from over the hill, but he has got to see the end in sight and ground up projects can't get him too excited. If Matt Moore flounders, do you see Smitty finishing his career as a Panther?

Pat Yasinskas: Good question. But I learned long ago not to even try to guess what might be in the little man’s mind on any given day.
A friend of mine from Charlotte just called and asked me what I thought about the “fire sale’’ the Panthers are having today.

[+] EnlargeJake Delhomme
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireJake Delhomme is one of several veterans the Panthers cut ties with recently.
I’m going to tell you the same thing I told him. This is not a fire sale. Call the release of Jake Delhomme, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis, Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson and the fact Julius Peppers and (maybe) Muhsin Muhammad are walking out the door as free agents a lot of things. But don’t call it a fire sale.

A true fire sale is when you’re getting rid of good players in their prime. Aside from Peppers, none of these guys is in his prime. Delhomme was old and, after his dismal play last season, this decision shouldn’t seem as shocking as many are making it out to be. Muhammad’s also old, but I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of him re-signing with the Panthers.

Kemoeatu, Lewis, Diggs and Johnson? They were role players, who were at the back end of their contracts. They were due salaries that were higher than their actual value.

The Panthers still have their core -- Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Jordan Gross, Chris Gamble, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in place -- and that’s not a bad core to work with. Besides, some of those guys are coming up on long-term contracts.

If the Panthers start getting rid of those guys, then you’ve got a real fire sale on your hands. But these were pretty basic football decisions (although the Peppers situation was much more complicated). The Panthers have some young guys like Dan Connor, Everette Brown and Charles Johnson that they have high hopes for and that they want to get on the field.

I also believe owner Jerry Richardson has a hand in all this. In part, I think this is a message to players about the uncertain labor situation. Like many owners, Richardson, is worried about the possibility of a lockout in 2011. In an uncapped year, Richardson is slashing costs. These moves aren’t much different than what the Panthers would do in a capped year.

Richardson is showing the rest of his players the oil/water/money well, while not dry, isn’t flowing freely these days.
John Fox and Marty Hurney just met with the Carolina media to discuss the release of quarterback Jake Delhomme. We’ll have more on what they had to say in a bit.

It’s already been reported the Panthers also were cutting defensive tackles Maake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis. But Fox and Hurney revealed that linebackers Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson also were part of the purge.

Suddenly, Carolina’s roster looks a lot younger and a lot cheaper. It also doesn’t look very good, but we’ll have to see what the flip side to all these moves turns out to be.

Panthers trimming salaries fast

March, 5, 2010
What you’re seeing out of Carolina right now might be a sign of things to come for the Panthers and the rest of the league.

[+] EnlargeMaake Kemoeatu
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesMaake Kemoeatu was scheduled to make more than $4 million in 2010.
Jerry Richardson is going to be one of the most proactive owners in dealing with the current labor situation and the possibility of a lockout in 2011. That’s why the Panthers let defensive tackle Damione Lewis go and that’s why it now is being reported the other starting defensive tackle, Maake Kemoeatu, has been released.

Kemoeatu was a pretty ordinary defensive tackle, but his absence seemed like a big deal last year because the Panthers had no depth when he went down with an injury on the first day of training camp. Kemoeatu is still recovering from that injury, isn’t getting younger and was scheduled to make more than $4 million.

With Lewis and Kemoeatu gone, the Panthers have nothing but journeymen at defensive tackle. They’ll have to address the position heavily in free agency or in the draft. But I’m guessing the Panthers use the draft more because they aren’t going to be big players in free agency. Right now, it looks like Richardson is more interested in saving money than in spending it.

I didn’t mention the release of Jake Delhomme as a cost-cutting move. That’s largely because the Panthers are on the hook to Delhomme for almost $13 million. But they’ll take that cap hit in an uncapped year. They won’t have any hit remaining if a cap does return in 2011 and they won’t have any future obligations to Delhomme.

Panthers release DT Lewis

March, 4, 2010
On the surface, it seems a bit surprising the Carolina Panthers have cut Damione Lewis, who has been their best defensive tackle in recent years.

But not when you figure in the economic side. Lewis was scheduled to earn more than $5 million in 2010. That’s a classic case of production and cost not matching up. Lewis was an ordinary defensive tackle at best and actually ended up playing far more than the Panthers ever really expected him to. They initially thought he could factor into the rotation and be used mainly as a pass rusher.

Due to injuries and other issues, Lewis became more of an every-down defensive tackle. He never was much of a run stuffer and the Panthers do have Maake Kemoeatu coming back from an injury that forced him to miss all of last season. Aside from that, they only have several journeymen defensive tackles and they also may be looking for help at defensive end as Julius Peppers exits as a free agent.

Looks like coach John Fox, who built this team around his defensive line, will be starting from scratch. Although the Panthers aren’t expected to be major players in free agency, look for them to at least consider some mid-level defensive linemen because they won’t be able to get everything they need in the draft.

Panthers start building DT depth

February, 17, 2010
Don’t go scheduling a Super Bowl parade in Charlotte just yet, but let’s give the Panthers credit for being proactive at defensive tackle -- this time around.

They signed street free agent Ed Johnson on Wednesday, according to our John Clayton. Johnson is just a guy and there’s no guarantee he’ll even make the team. He started 16 games for the Colts as an undrafted rookie in 2007. After that, he became a part-time player and bounced off and on the Indianapolis roster the last two seasons. He also spent his first two seasons with Carolina defensive coordinator Ron Meeks.

Not exactly a fancy résumé, but it gives the Panthers some potential depth at defensive tackle. That’s a good thing because a lack of depth at that position was a major reason why the Panthers went 8-8 last season.

On the first day of training camp, it became painfully obvious they had no depth there once Maake Kemoeatu went down with a season-ending injury. They tried plugging in a whole bunch of different guys next to Damione Lewis before arranging a work-release deal with a nursing home to get the ancient Hollis Thomas, who actually came in and played pretty well.

Kemoeatu appears to be progressing with his recovery and that’s good news. Kemoeatu is a very average player, but the Panthers need his size in the middle. And they need depth behind him. At least this year, they’re starting to build it.

Hoover wins Tom Berry Good Guy Award

December, 31, 2009
I’ve got some good news to share. I’ve been working with the writers who cover the Carolina Panthers on a regular basis on something that means a lot to us.

We collectively have decided that Carolina fullback Brad Hoover is the inaugural winner of the Professional Football Writers of America Tom Berry Good Guy Award. Hoover will be presented with the award Sunday.

Like I said, this one was deeply personal for the Carolina media corps and myself.

Tom Berry was one of us. He was the longtime columnist for the High Point Enterprise. He passed away in September and we wanted to do something to help carry on his memory. Creating this award was the one positive we could make out of this tragedy.

As the NFC South representative for the PFWA, I just sent out a press release to all the members of the Carolina media and, hopefully, you’ll see this mentioned in multiple places.

Tom deserves it and so does Hoover. I had the privilege of sitting about eight feet from Tom in the media room during the nine seasons I covered the Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and I can’t say I’ve met a finer man or journalist. Tom was the strong, silent type and carried himself with dignity and pride, especially through his illness.

Selecting Hoover was easy. Defensive tackle Damione Lewis and quarterback Jake Delhomme were mentioned when we first started discussing candidates for this award and either of them would have been a fine choice. But, as soon as Hoover’s name came up, we had a winner.

First of all, Hoover embodies what we were looking for -- the player who is most cooperative with the media. He’s always been very courteous and a total pro. But there’s more than that on this one.

Hoover also is from Thomasville, N.C., which is part of The Enterprise’s coverage area. Tom covered Hoover throughout his high school, college and professional career. We used to joke that Tom was Hoover’s personal beat writer because he chronicled just about everything Hoover ever did.

That’s why I’m so proud that we’re able to put Hoover’s name on a plaque that says “Tom Berry Good Guy Award’’. It’s a perfect fit and a perfect way to carry on Tom’s memory.
Posted by’s Pat Yasinskas

The Carolina Panthers, a team usually very hesitant to make trades, has made one. It’s a desperation effort to solidify the middle of their patchwork defensive line and, by extension, help the rest of a struggling defense.

Carolina’s deal with Kansas City for defensive tackle Tank Tyler, comes before tomorrow’s trading deadline. Tyler, a North Carolina State product, was in his third season with the Chiefs. Not known as a pass-rusher (Tyler doesn’t have a career sack), he has played the run well. The Panthers parted with a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 to get Tyler.

He had 41 tackles while starting all 16 games last season and has 22 tackles so far this season.

The Panthers have struggled to find a decent replacement since Maake Kemoeatu went down with a season-ending injury on the first day of training camp. They’ve gone through other injuries at the position and tried several candidates that haven’t worked out.

Nick Hayden has been starting in Kemoeatu’s place next to Damione Lewis. It’s likely Tyler will step right in as no worse than the third member of the rotation and could challenge for a starting job before long. The Panthers also have recently added veteran Hollis Thomas, another run-stuffer.