Twenty workers laid off in Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As the Carolina Panthers negotiate a lucrative contract with impending free agent Jordan Gross, they're making cuts elsewhere in the organization because of the economic downturn.

Team spokesman Charlie Dayton said Tuesday that the Panthers have laid off approximately 20 employees. That number does not include longtime director of player development Donnie Shell, who announced his retirement.

Dayton declined to name the employees who lost their jobs or the areas of operations most affected.

"The NFL is not immune from the current economic conditions and these are very difficult decisions designed to help the organization move forward in the most efficient manner possible," Dayton said.

The team's player payroll is apparently not affected. The Panthers are trying to re-sign Gross, their Pro Bowl left tackle, before Thursday's deadline to use the franchise tag on a player.

Gross could get about $9 million a year in a new deal. If the Panthers sign Gross, they'll likely place the franchise tag on four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers and perhaps trade him. Peppers, another impending free agent, has said he wants to play elsewhere next season.

Shell's departure comes after he spent the past 15 seasons with Carolina.

A member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' "Steel Curtain" defense in the 1970s, the five-time Pro Bowl safety started working in community relations for the Panthers. He was later promoted to running the player development program, which helps players plan for careers after football.

In a statement, Shell praised owner Jerry Richardson, who is recovering from a heart transplant, coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney.

"I thank them for the opportunity to work with the Carolina Panthers players and their families for 15 years," Shell said. "As a former player, Mr. Richardson has a great feeling for the players and their families."