Carolina Panthers Rumors & News

Panthers LB A.J. Klein Seeking Starting Job

Panthers linebacker A.J. Klein said he’ll be looking for a starting gig when he hits the open market next month, according to SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link)."<strong

[RELATED: Panthers Release Paul Soliai]

As Klein alluded to in his interview with SiriusXM, he’s been stuck behind one of the best linebacker duos in the league for the duration of his career. Klein, 25, is a fine reserve, but he’s no Luke Kuechly or Thomas Davis, and was never going to usurp either player for starting time. Carolina used a first-round pick on fellow ‘backer Shaq Thompson in 2015, further decreasing any chance Klein would venture into the club’s starting lineup.

While Klein hasn’t been a regular during his time with the Panthers, he has averaged roughly six starts per season over the past four years thanks to injuries along Carolina’s linebacking unit. In 2016, though, Klein only played on about a third of the Panthers’ defensive snaps, but did see action on nearly half the club’s special teams plays. All told, he managed 29 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles.

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OL Geoff Schwartz Announces Retirement

Longtime NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz announced his retirement today, writing on SB Nation today that he’s decided to hang up his cleats.Geoff Schwartz (vertical)

Schwartz, 30, spent last summer on the Lions’ offseason roster after signing a one-year, minimum salary benefit deal with Detroit. Expected to serve as a reserve at several positions along the line, Schwartz was waived at the end of August. As he writes in his retirement piece, Schwartz fully expected to land another contract after parting ways with the Lions, but after weeks passed with no contact from interested clubs, Schwartz realized his career was likely over.

Nevertheless, Schwartz’s seven-year NFL run can’t be considered anything other than a success, especially given that Schwartz entered the league as seventh-round pick and suffered a devastating hip injury soon after becoming an established starter. After bouncing around with the Panthers and Vikings, Schwartz played his best ball with the Chiefs in 2013, grading as one of the best guards in the NFL.

After parlaying his seven-game starter stint in Kansas City into a four-year deal with the Giants, Schwartz dealt with injury once again, managing to play in only 13 games over two seasons thanks to ankle, toe, and leg issues. Having struggled to stay on the field, Schwartz was released by New York last February.

Schwartz has already begun his post-NFL career in media: not only does he pen excellent pieces at SB Nation, but he’s co-authored a book with his brother, Chiefs offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz. For offensive line junkies, Schwartz’s Twitter account is a must-follow, as is his podcast.

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Panthers Cut FB Mike Tolbert

The Panthers are making some major moves today. Moments after releasing defensive tackle Paul Soliai comes word that the Panthers are also cutting fullback Mike Tolbert (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). Mike Tolbert (Vertical)

[RELATED: Panthers Sign G Amini Silatolu]

Tolbert is coming off of his third career Pro Bowl selection, all of which have come with the Panthers. In his five years with Carolina, Tolbert has also garnered two First Team All-Pro nods (2013, 2015). We can safely assume that Tolbert is being cut for cap purposes rather than football reasons. Tolbert was set to carry a $2.075MM cap charge but the team will clear $1.725MM in space by cutting him.

Historically, the Panthers gave Tolbert a decent amount of work as a running back in their offense. In 2016, however, he had only 35 carries – the lowest total of his Panthers career. Teams looking for a lead blocker with goal line ability will be getting in touch with Tolbert’s agent over the next few weeks.

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Panthers To Release DT Paul Soliai

The Panthers are cutting defensive tackle Paul Soliai, according to agent David Canter (via Twitter). Soliai signed a two-year, $7MM deal with Carolina just one year ago. Paul Soliai (vertical)

[RELATED: Victor Cruz Visits Panthers]

Soliai, 33, joined up with the Panthers after spending several years with the Dolphins and two seasons with the rival Falcons. This year, he was only able to appear in ten games for his new team and finished out the year with eight total tackles. For his limited time on the field, he had a dreadful 47.6 out of 100 score on Pro Football Focus.

Per the terms of his deal, Soliai was scheduled to collect on a $500K roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2017 league year. By informing him of his release today, the Panthers are giving Soliai several extra weeks to find his next NFL home. He might not be able to replicate his 2013 season, but he does offer plenty of experience and he is capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme.

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Victor Cruz Visits Panthers

The Giants released wide receiver Victor Cruz last Monday, but it didn’t take long for the 30-year-old to garner serious interest on the open market. Cruz visited the Panthers on Monday, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL.com and Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter links). Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review first reported the connection between Cruz and Carolina.

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns

The meeting between Cruz and Carolina “went well,” Cruz tells Art Stapleton of The Record (Twitter link), who adds that mutual interest exists between the two parties. Cruz will continue the free agent “process,” an indication he’ll likely meet with other clubs, but the Panthers are a “strong first suitor,” per Stapleton.

If the Panthers were to sign Cruz, it would reunite him with general manager Dave Gettleman, who worked in the Giants’ front office from 1999-2012. Gettleman was on hand when the Giants signed Cruz as an undrafted free agent from UMass in 2010, which turned into an excellent move for both the team and player.

Cruz caught 303 passes and 25 touchdowns as a Giant, with whom he also won a Super Bowl and went to a Pro Bowl. Injuries mostly kept Cruz out of action from 2014-15, though he bounced back last season to make 15 appearances and 12 starts. While Cruz only caught 39 passes and one touchdown in 2016, he did manage to match his career yards-per-catch average of 15.0.

Regardless of whether they add Cruz, acquiring more targets for Cam Newton should be a priority for the Panthers. The team’s top two pass catchers from last season, tight end Greg Olsen and wideout Kelvin Benjamin, will be in the fold in 2017, but third-leading receiver Ted Ginn is headed for free agency. No one else on Carolina’s roster hauled in more than 27 passes last year.

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Panthers Sign G Amini Silatolu

The Panthers announced they have re-signed guard Amini Silatolu. It’ll be a one-year deal for Carolina and the former second-round pick. Amini Silatolu (Vertical)

After being selected early in 2012, Silatolu started 15 games during his rookie season and looked the part of a future cog for the Panthers. Unfortunately, injuries have slowed him ever since. He suffered torn ACLs which ended both his 2013 and 2015 seasons and calf and knee injuries plagued him in 2014. Silatolu slid down the depth chart and the team showed little (if any) interest in re-signing him after the 2015 season. He hooked on with the Bears prior to the 2016 season, but he was cut before Week 1.

Now, he returns to the Panthers to try and recapture the spark he had in 2012.

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2017 NFL Franchise Tag Candidates

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Starting today, NFL teams will be able to place franchise and transition tags on potential free agents for the first time. While the window for franchise tags is open, most clubs won’t actually tag any players right away.

As our list of important dates for the 2017 offseason shows, the deadline for teams to assign those tags doesn’t come until Wednesday, March 1st. Usually, when it comes to NFL contract discussions, deadlines spur action, so teams will wait until that deadline approaches to officially use franchise tags, once it becomes clear that they won’t be able to strike a longer-term deal yet with their respective free-agents-to-be.

Even though the action might not heat up for a couple more weeks, it’s worth taking a closer look at what to expect during 2017’s franchise tag period. The NFL hasn’t officially announced the salary cap figure for 2017, but former agent Joel Corry of CBSSports.com recently projected the 2017 franchise tag salaries based on a presumed $168MM cap. Here are the expected non-exclusive franchise tag amounts:

  • Quarterback: $21.395MM
  • Running back: $12.377MM
  • Wide receiver: $15.826MM
  • Tight end: $9.894MM
  • Offensive line: $14.444MM
  • Defensive end: $16.955MM
  • Defensive tackle: $13.468MM
  • Linebacker: $14.754MM
  • Cornerback: $14.297MM
  • Safety: $10.961MM
  • Punter/kicker: $4.863MM

(For a refresher on the characteristics of the exclusive and non-exclusive franchise tags, as well as the transition tag, be sure to check out PFR’s glossary entry on the subject.)

Here’s our look at the most likely candidates to be tagged, along with several more outside possibilities:

Virtual Locks:

Chandler Jones, DE, Cardinals: Maybe Jones should headline a category titled “Super Duper Virtual Locks.” In January, coach Bruce "<strongArians said that the Cards would apply the franchise tag to Jones if they were unable to immediately lock him up to a long-term deal. Then, just this week, Cardinals president Michael Bidwill offered additional confirmation of that plan. The $16.955MM tag will be applied to Jones in the next couple of weeks and the two sides will then have until the summer to work out a long-term deal. The odds of a longer pact coming together seem pretty good, considering the Cardinals knew what they were getting themselves into when they traded for Jones last year.

Kawann Short, DT, Panthers: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera admits that Short will “probably” be tagged and, unlike ex-teammate Josh Norman, Short doesn’t have a problem with it. The 28-year-old was the third-best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Panthers will gladly pay him ~$13.5MM on a one-year deal. A multi-year agreement could require an average annual value of $17MM, so our early guess is that Short will wind up actually playing on the tender.


Le’Veon Bell
, RB, Steelers: We’ve known for a while now that the Steelers will use the franchise tag on Bell. For all of his off-the-field headaches, Bell still stands as one of the league’s most dynamic running backs and a one-year, $12.3MM deal would suit Pittsburgh just fine. Sometime after the tag is in place, we’re expecting the two sides to agree on a long-term deal. As I wrote in our most recent edition of the Free Agent Power Rankings, Bell will top LeSean McCoy‘s ~$8MM AAV and Doug Martin‘s $15MM in guarantees on a new multiyear pact. Of course, other factors such as cash flow will be pivotal in talks, particularly given the limited shelf life of running backs.
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Panthers Could Be Fit For Victor Cruz

Cruz will ceremonially retire as a Giant someday and later end up in their Ring of Honor, opines Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. His next step, though, will be to head to the open market, where he could find a fit with the Panthers, suggests Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. There’s already a connection between Carolina and Cruz: Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was the Giants’ director of pro personnel when Big Blue signed the wideout as an undrafted free agent in 2011.

Trai Turner Changes Agent

  • Entering the final year of his rookie contract, and coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance, Panthers guard Trai Turner has signed with Rosenhaus Sports for representation, per Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal (Twitter link). Turner’s previous agent was Ron Butler, whom Turner had just hired in May 2016. The 23-year-old Turner will earn ~$1.8MM in 2017 thanks to the proven performance escalator, which rewards mid-round picks based on playing time.

Panthers President Danny Morrison Steps Down

Panthers president Danny Morrison announced that he is leaving the team. Danny Morrison (vertical)

I have enjoyed my time with the Panthers and want to thank Mr. Richardson and everyone involved with the organization,” Morrison said. “This is something I have been thinking about for a while and the timing is right with the start of the business year. We have made great progress in a number of areas, but there are other endeavors, particularly on the college level, that interest me as a final chapter in my career.”

Within the press release, Jerry Richardson thanked Morrison for his “significant contributions” to the team over the last seven years and was highly complimentary. The decision to leave the team might not have been entirely Morrison’s, but at minimum, it’s an amicable parting of ways.

Morrison was more involved on the business side of things than football decisions, so this shouldn’t affect day-to-day operations for Dave Gettleman and his staff.

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