Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Updated: February 28, 12:10 PM ET
Panthers sign Muhammad to pair with Smith, scrap Carr
By Len Pasquarelli
In their latest effort to secure a proven receiver to pair with Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers have turned to a familiar face, reaching a contract agreement Wednesday with veteran free agent Muhsin Muhammad.
Also Tuesday, the Panthers released quarterback David Carr, who disappointed in his first season as a backup to Jake Delhomme.
Carr was let go a year after he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Panthers following a five-year stint as a starter in Houston. Carr struggled so badly when he took over for the injured Delhomme last season that he was eventually demoted to third-string.
"He did everything we asked, but unfortunately it didn't work out like anyone had hoped or expected," general manager Marty Hurney said. "David is an excellent person and we wish him the best."
Released by the Bears last week, Muhammad played the first nine seasons of his career (1996-2004) with the Panthers before signing with Chicago in 2005. After his release, the 12-year veteran generated interest from four teams, but quickly focused on rejoining the Panthers, given his familiarity with the franchise and the fact he still owns a home in the Charlotte area.
Muhammad, 34, will sign a two-year contract, the financial details of which were not immediately available.
"I did talk to Steve and he felt like he needs another complement on the other side of him," Muhammad said at a news conference. "He kind of coerced me into coming back. He welcomed me back with open arms. ... We're excited about playing again with each other. We've always maintained our friendship outside of football."
The Panthers appeared to be his first choice from the beginning.
"Moose from day one urged me to do my best to return him to the Panthers," said agent Joel Segal, who declined to reveal financial figures.
The addition of Muhammad should provide the Panthers with a wide receiver who, despite his age, will be capable of reducing some of the double coverage that Smith faces on a weekly basis. Typical of the disproportionate distribution in the Carolina passing game over the past few seasons, Smith had 87 receptions in 2007, and no other Panthers' wide receiver posted more than 38 catches.
Only once in the past four seasons -- in 2006, when Smith had 83 receptions and Keyshawn Johnson had 70 -- have the Panthers had two wide receivers with more than 50 catches each.
Even in a down year for Muhammad in 2007, the veteran had 40 catches for 570 yards and three touchdowns. The receptions represented the fewest for Muhammad since 1997, his second season in the NFL, but that total was affected by the lack of consistency that the Bears experienced at the quarterback position, where they used three different starters.
Bringing Muhammad back for a second stint also gives the Panthers another veteran presence in a locker room said to have lacked leadership in 2007.
Carolina officials are hopeful that second-year wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, a second-round choice in 2007, will advance sufficiently in 2008 to challenge for a starting role. If that's the case, Muhammad could end up being the No. 3 receiver, working primarily out of the slot. But if Jarrett stumbles again, after appearing in only seven games as a rookie, when he registered six catches for 73 yards, Muhammad could claim the starting spot opposite Smith.
"If I'm the No. 3 receiver, they're going to have a real good No. 3 receiver on the field," said Muhammad, who is 64 yards shy of 10,000 yards receiving in his career.
Muhammad represents a big target, works the middle of the field well, and has always been a productive red zone receiver.
In 172 appearances, including 160 starts, Muhammad has 742 catches for 9,934 yards and 56 touchdowns. The former Michigan State standout, selected by the Panthers in the second round of the 1996 draft, has seven seasons with 60 or more receptions and three years with 1,000 yards receiving.
Muhammad's best season was in 2004, with the Panthers, when he had 93 catches for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. That season earned Muhammad the second Pro Bowl berth of his career. He earlier went to the Pro Bowl in 1999.
The durable Muhammad, who has missed only 20 games in 12 seasons, has started in 14 or more contests in all but one of the past 10 seasons.
Saying he's motivated to win a championship for Charlotte, Muhammad was eager to get to work. He already worked out a deal with tight end Jeff King to wear No. 87 again.
"Everybody is extremely excited that he's back," Hurney said. "He brings an attitude. He brings a work ethic. He was somebody that was extremely highly regarded when he was here. It was a sad day when he left and it's a happy day now that he's back."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.