Panthers Pick Up Derrick Brown’s Fifth-Year Option, Decline C.J. Henderson’s

A 2021 trade made the Panthers responsible for two fifth-year option decisions ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. The team will only pick up Derrick Brown‘s option, passing on C.J. Henderson‘s.

This was the expected call for the Panthers, who have rebuffed trade inquiries on Brown since the Matt Rhule firing opened the floodgates on that front last year. The Bears inquired about the former top-10 pick in this year’s talks about the No. 1 overall selection, but the sides ended up reaching a deal that included D.J. Moore. Brown is now under contract for two more years.

Since Brown has been a regular starter but one without a Pro Bowl on his resume, he qualifies for the third tier of the fifth-year option structure. That comes out to a manageable $11.67MM fully guaranteed salary for Brown in 2024. Even as Henderson’s playing time drops him to Tier 4 of the option hierarchy ($11.51MM for cornerbacks), the Panthers are passing. Henderson is now in a contract year.

Brown, who turned 25 last month, has continued to elevate his game. Pro Football Focus ranked the former No. 7 overall pick as the game’s seventh-best interior D-lineman last season. The advanced metrics site slotted Brown third overall among interior D-linemen against the run. The Auburn product finished last season with just one sack but batted down seven passes and totaled 17 pressures. That number ranked in the top 15 among pure interior defenders last season.

When the Panthers axed Rhule in October 2022, they fielded calls on a few players. Christian McCaffrey ended up being dealt, but the Panthers hung onto Moore, Brown and Brian Burns. The Panthers relented on Moore when other teams’ interest in the No. 1 overall pick required them to up their offer to the Bears, but Brown and Burns are extension candidates. The Panthers have Burns going into his fifth-year option season, but they have continued to plan for an extension. Brown became extension-eligible in January, but seeing as Monday’s option call locks him down through 2024, it would not be surprising if the team huddled up on a Brown deal next year.

Henderson has not delivered what the Panthers had hoped upon trading for him early during the 2021 season. The Jaguars bailed on the former No. 9 overall draftee early, with Urban Meyer signing off on the September 2021 trade. After going down with an injury midway through his rookie season, Henderson has not become a reliable starter. PFF ranked the Florida alum outside the top 100 at corner in 2021 and ’22.

The Panthers also have potential extension payments coming to Jeremy Chinn and Jaycee Horn; both of whom came up amid the post-Rhule fallout last year. Donte Jackson and Vonn Bell are tied to veteran deals. Up front, no big contracts reside on the Panthers’ payroll. But Burns will likely change that soon. By next summer, both Burns and Brown could be signed to long-term accords. But Monday’s decision bought the Panthers additional time on Brown.

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