Panthers Rumors

WR Diontae Johnson Interested In Panthers Extension

The Steelers and Panthers agreed to swap contract-year players. The higher-profile piece included in the March trade went to Carolina, which acquired Diontae Johnson. Donte Jackson is now in Pittsburgh, joining Johnson as a walk-year player on a new team.

Carolina has now paired Johnson’s Pittsburgh-constructed contract with Bryce Young‘s rookie deal. Johnson and Adam Thielen join rookie-contract wideouts Jonathan Mingo and Xavier Legette. After inking a two-year, $36.75MM deal before the 2022 season, Johnson may not need to see how this season goes before determining Charlotte could work for him long term.

[RELATED: Diontae Johnson Sought Trade From Steelers]

Just gotta stay relaxed, just keep being humble, make my plays,” Johnson said, via Panthers Wire’s Anthony Rizzuti. “Help the team win the best way I can and my game will speak for itself. And if they feel like they want to extend me, then I’m all for it.”

Johnson’s contract timeline has proven interesting. He initially strolled into a walk year as the Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams contracts began a sea change in the receiver market. The Jaguars’ four-year, $72MM Christian Kirk proposal changed the market’s second tier as well, and a slew of Day 2 draftees in 2019 — Johnson, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, D.K. Metcalf — landed extensions. Johnson’s checked in between Kirk’s pact and the Brown-Metcalf-Samuel-McLaurin tier, averaging $18.35MM per year. He is now going into a contract year as the WR market is changing again.

Brown, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Justin Jefferson have surpassed Hill’s $30MM-per-year accord, and Hill joins CeeDee Lamb and Brandon Aiyuk in angling for a top-market contract. Courtland Sutton resides near the second tier; the Broncos’ top wideout is pushing for an adjustment as well. Johnson, who will turn 28 next month, can certainly aim for a contract north of $20MM per year. He might need to deliver a bounce-back season in Carolina to up his market.

Johnson has been tied to a slew of QBs during his career. Although Ben Roethlisberger will be a Hall of Famer, he was not at his best during Johnson’s Pittsburgh stay. Big Ben’s 2019 elbow injury ushered in a season of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, and Roethlisberger’s retirement brought in Kenny Pickett. The latter failed to justify the Steelers’ No. 20 overall investment, leading to a trade. Johnson has made do, with his crafty route running (with a drop penchant admittedly mixed in) aiding this lot of QBs. Sandwiching an 1,161-yard 2021 showing in Roethlisberger’s finale, Johnson totaled 923 yards (2020) and 881 (2022). The former third-round pick bettered his 2022 per-game average, notching 55.2 per contest — and catching five TD passes after famously being kept out of the end zone in 2022 — after returning from a hamstring injury last season.

The Panthers added Johnson and Legette to help round out Young’s aerial cast, which was thin beyond Thielen last season. Thielen’s three-year, $25MM contract features a guaranteed 2024 salary. The soon-to-be 34-year-old receiver’s 2025 money is nonguaranteed, giving the Panthers options. Another Johnson deal would align with Young’s rookie deal on a roster largely devoid of big-ticket contracts.

Carolina hired Dan Morgan as its GM this offseason. While Morgan did not have final say on the D.J. Moore and Robbie Chosen extensions earlier this decade, he was on staff when the Panthers authorized them. It will certainly be interesting to see if the Panthers move to extend Johnson before or during his contract campaign.

WR Pharoh Cooper Announces Retirement

Pharoh Cooper did not play in 2023, and he will not pursue a comeback this summer. The veteran receiver/return specialist announced his retirement on Monday.

Cooper entered the league with the Rams in 2016, and he showed promise in the return game as a rookie. His follow-up campaign proved to be the best of his career on special teams, as he racked up 1,421 all-purpose yards while averaging 27.4 kick return yards. The former fourth-rounder earned a Pro Bowl nod along with first-team All-Pro honors that season.

The South Carolina product’s run with the Rams came to an end following an ankle injury in 2018. That marked the beginning of a span in which he bounced around the NFL while trying to remain a standout returner and carve out a role on offense. In the latter regard, his best season came in 2019 (243 yards, one touchdown on 25 catches) while splitting his time between the Cardinals and Bengals.

Cooper went on to spend the 2020 season in Carolina before joining the Giants the following season. His last game action came in 2022 when he returned to Arizona; in all three stops he saw sparse offensive usage while serving as the his team’s returner. For his career, Cooper racked up over 3,900 return yards and averaged 9.2 yards on punt returns and 23.6 yards on kick returns.

“Farewell football, I’m officially retiring from the NFL,” his retirement announcement reads in part. “I appreciate all the love and support I’ve received from my family, friends, and fans through out my career. Much love.” 

Cooper will hang up his cleats at the age of 29. A veteran of 76 combined regular and postseason games, he amassed roughly $4.77MM in career earnings. After a full season away from the game in 2023, he will turn his attention to his post-playing days.

Minor NFL Transactions: 6/5/24

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves:

Carolina Panthers

  • Released from IR via injury settlement: OL Ilm Manning

Cleveland Browns

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Waived/injured: WR David White

Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

White suffered a torn ACL during one of the Jaguars’ practices last week, Doug Pederson said recently. The Jags signed White as a UDFA following a career at Western Carolina. White will revert to the Jags’ IR list if unclaimed, with this process generally leading to an injury settlement that moves the player off the team’s roster. White was among five UDFAs receivers the Jags signed this year.

A sixth-round Titans draftee back in 2021, Breeze was most recently with the Texans. He spent the second half of last season on Houston’s practice squad, staying on the AFC South champions’ 16-man unit until season’s end. No reserve/futures contract emerged for the Oregon alum, however. Breeze has played in 11 career games, splitting his career in Tennessee and Detroit.

The Biggest Wide Receiver Contract In Each Team’s History

This offseason has brought changes to the wide receiver market, but a host of wideouts chosen early in the 2020 draft have taken center stage. Additional raises to the WR market’s ceiling are likely on tap, with the Vikings (Justin Jefferson) and Cowboys (CeeDee Lamb) employing a pass catcher due a monster raise.

Most NFL teams have authorized a big-ticket (by today’s standards) deal for a wide receiver. Ranked by guaranteed money and excluding rookie contracts and accords acquired via trade, here is the most lucrative WR deal in each franchise’s history.

Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitzgerald‘s seven-year, $113MM extension (August 2011) holds the Cardinals standard for total value, but Hopkins’ pact checks in higher in terms of guarantees and AAV.

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

In total, Michael Crabtree‘s 2018 deal (worth $21MM) and Derrick Mason‘s 2005 agreement ($20MM) surpass Beckham’s. But the 2023 Baltimore rental’s guarantee came in higher.

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

The Browns have featured three higher-paid receivers on their roster since Landry’s contract, but both Odell Beckham Jr. and Amari Cooper arrived via trade and played on contracts designed by other teams. Jerry Jeudy‘s AAV ($17.5MM) on his 2024 extension also outpaces Landry’s, though the recent trade pickup’s total guarantee falls short here.

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Courtland Sutton‘s 2021 extension carries a higher AAV ($15MM) but included $18.85MM guaranteed.

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

DeAndre Hopkins‘ 2017 re-up included more in total value but a lower AAV and guarantee

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Tyreek Hill‘s 2022 extension tops his teammate for AAV ($30MM) but came in just south for guarantees ($72.2MM)

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s 2023 deal trails Agholor’s in AAV but carried the same full guarantee. Danny Amendola‘s full payout ($28.5MM) in 2013 tops both deals.

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Allen Lazard‘s 2023 deal and Santonio Holmes‘ contract back in 2011 brought more in total value ($44MM and $45MM, respectively) but did not match Davis’ for guarantees.

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio Brown‘s four-year, $68MM extension in 2017 also included a $19MM guarantee at signing but trailed Johnson’s in terms of total guarantees.

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin‘s 2022 deal beats Evans’ for at-signing guarantees ($40MM), while the all-time Bucs receiving leader’s 2024 agreement leads the way in AAV ($20.5MM).

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

NFC South Front Office Updates: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers

The changes to NFL front offices continue in the recent aftermath of the NFL draft. For example, the Buccaneers announced a number of promotions in the scouting department recently, according to Greg Auman of FOX Sports.

Sean Conley is set to begin a new role as assistant pro director after previously serving as a pro scout. A former recruiting assistant for Northwestern at the collegiate level, Conley has been in Tampa Bay for the last six seasons, serving the last three as a pro scout.

Donovan Cotton joins Conley as assistant pro director. Cotton has been with the Buccaneers for 10 years, spending the last nine seasons as an area scout. He originally broke into the league as a training camp scouting intern for the Packers before working a full-season player personnel internship in Seattle.

Lastly, Zach Smith will go from the NFS/combine scout role he earned two years ago to a college scout. Smith is entering his seventh year with the team.

Here are a few other front office staff updates in the NFC South:

  • The Falcons continue to respect the work done by Michael Ross. After starting in Atlanta as an intern in 2008, Ross has gradually risen through the ranks of the team’s scouting department. According to Neil Stratton of SucceedinFootball.com, his most recent promotion grants him the title of assistant director of college scouting.
  • Finally, the Panthers are bringing on a new hire to their scouting department in Colton Chapple, per Stratton. Chapple hasn’t worked in the NFL for the past two years, working in private business during that time, but prior to his absence, he worked nine years in the Browns’ scouting department.

Panthers K Eddy Pineiro Absent From OTAs

Absences around the NFL with respect to offseason workouts receives attention at a number of positions, but kicker is generally not one of them. In the case of Eddy Pineiro, though, the start of Panthers OTAs marked the next step in his decision to remain away from the team.

Pineiro has been absent throughout all of Carolina’s offseason, program, per Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). One year remains on his contract, and he is due to make $2MM in 2024. That falls well short of the top of the kicker market, and Pineiro will aim to land a raise on a new deal.

The 28-year-old began his NFL career with the Raiders, but his debut came as a member of the Bears. His Chicago campaign in 2019 was strong in terms of both field goals (23-of-28) and extra point attempts (27-of-29), but he did not see the field the following year. In 2021, Pineiro kicked for the Jets following an unsuccessful attempt to land the gig in Washington.

That was followed by a one-year Panthers deal signed in August 2022. Pineiro followed special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to Carolina after working alongside him in Chicago. The move allowed him to fill in for the injured Zane Gonzlezand it proved to be an effective one for team and player. Pineiro connected on all but two of his field goal attempts and two of his extra point kicks in 2022.

As a result, the Panthers made the unsurprising decision to retain the Florida product on a two-year accord. Last year, Pineiro saw his field goal (86.2%) and extra point (85%) accuracy dip, although overall his Panthers tenure has seen him remain one of the league’s most accurate kickers. Eight of Pineiro’s counterparts average at least $5MM per season on their respective deals, and he could be attempting to reach that level of compensation or at least another extension which moves him closer to the top 10.

Of course, the Panthers do have another kicker on their offseason roster. The team signed Harrison Mevis as a UDFA last month, and he is now in place to handle all kicking duties given Pineiro’s ongoing absence. The position will be one to monitor as the offseason progresses.

NFC Rumors: Cowboys, Tepper, Greenlaw

The Cowboys hit on quite a few of their picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, with first-rounder Tyler Smith reaching second-team All-Pro status last year, fourth-rounder Jake Ferguson earning the starting tight job halfway through his rookie season, and fifth-rounder DaRon Bland leading the NFL in interceptions, interception return yards, and pick sixes last season. Their second- and third-round picks from that draft, though, are still struggling to make a similar impact two years in. That may be changing soon.

Former second-round edge rusher Sam Williams found his name getting called fourth on the depth chart last year, behind Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Dorance Armstrong. It’s hard to imagine being disappointed with a fourth-place finish in that situation, considering Parsons has become a perennial DPOY candidate, Lawrence is a four-time Pro Bowler, and Armstrong is a veteran with 21.0 sacks in the last three years. Still, per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, Williams wants to play more, and director of player personnel Stephen Jones claims that, thanks to Armstrong’s departure in free agency to Washington, those opportunities will come this year, though he will be competing now with this year’s second-round pick Marshawn Kneeland.

Likewise, third-round wide receiver Jalen Tolbert has seen limited production behind CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Noah Brown, and Michael Gallup. With Brown gone last year, Tolbert stepped his role up a little bit. After the team released Gallup, Tolbert is, once again, expected to step his game up in 2024. With Lamb and Cooks returning, Tolbert will now be given a larger opportunity to step in as WR3, per David Moore of the Dallas Morning News.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC:

  • Many have looked at the Panthers‘ decision to draft Bryce Young over C.J. Stroud in the 2023 NFL Draft as a gigantic misstep, given the vast difference in success each team saw last year. According to Joseph Person of The Athletic, some in the Panthers organization point to the S2 cognitive test as the main reasoning for the decision. Per Person, team owner David Tepper, a hedge-fund billionaire and a proponent of analytics, took the S2 test results very heavily into consideration when helping the team to make their decision. The test of processing speed and reaction time has been looked at as a potential indicator of future success at the quarterback position. Young scored extremely well (in the 98th percentile), while Stroud did not (18th percentile).
  • 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw notoriously missed a good mount of the team’s Super Bowl loss after tearing his Achilles tendon in the big game. According to a report from Matt Barrows of The Athletic, Greenlaw told the media that he had been experiencing some soreness in his Achilles for about a month or so before the game. He recently was able to shed his walking boot as he continues in recovery.
  • It’s been over a year since Steve Keim stepped down as general manager of the Cardinals following an indefinite leave of absence due to “an undisclosed health-related matter.” According to a recent interview Keim did with Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, the Cardinals administration advised Keim to check into a rehab while he was still general manager of the team. Of course, the situation eventually resulted in the two sides parting ways, but Keim continues to work on himself following the conclusion of his NFL career.

WR Terrace Marshall On Panthers’ Roster Bubble?

A number of Panthers were known to be on the block in advance of the 2023 trade deadline. That group included wideout Terrace Marshall, though he was not dealt.

Marshall entered the league with high expectations after he played a role in LSU’s explosive passing game alongside Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. While the latter two members of that pair have established themselves amongst the league’s top receivers, Marshall has struggled to carve out a role at the pro level. He once again faces an uncertain future in Carolina.

Marshall is likely on the roster bubble this summer, Joe Person of The Athletic writes (subscription required). The 23-year-old received permission to find a trade partner in October, but to little surprise there was not a strong market to acquire him. A limited role in the team’s offense in 2023 relative to his playing time the previous year fueled a trade request.

Carolina did not add a wideout during the campaign, but the team has been active on that front this offseason. The Panthers dealt cornerback Donte Jackson to the Steelers in return for Diontae Johnson. The latter posted at least 86 catches and 882 yards each year from 2020-22, and he will be a key member of Carolina’s passing attack moving forward.

The same is also true of Xavier Legette, whom the Panthers traded up to select at the end of Round 1 in the draft. The South Carolina product did not handle a notable role until 2023, but last season he posted a 71-1,255-7 statline while also showcasing his ability as a returner. Legette’s skillset is different from that of Johnson and 2023 signee Adam Thielen, and he will be counted on to carve out a role during his rookie season.

Thielen received 137 targets in his debut Panthers season, in part due to the team’s lack of other established pass-catching options. The additions of Johnson and Legette (as well as the decision to draft tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders in the fourth round) were aimed at rectifying that issue in quarterback Bryce Young‘s second campaign. The Panthers also have 2023 third-rounder Jonathan Mingo in place on the WR depth chart.

Marshall averaged 17.5 yards per catch while logging nine starts in 2022 when Ben McAdoo guided Carolina’s offense. His playing time saw a notable decline last year, though, and he recorded only 19 scoreless catches. Marshall’s performance in training camp will be worth watching closely. If new head coach Dave Canales does not foresee the former second-rounder surviving roster cutdowns, the team could look to move him in the final year of his rookie contract.

NFL Staff Updates: Commanders, 49ers, Slater, Colts, Panthers

The Commanders announced three updates to their front office staff this week. With new leadership in general manager Adam Peters and head coach Dan Quinn, the team sees two staffers depart and one scout join his former boss.

Firstly, senior director of player development Malcolm Blacken will not be retained in 2024, per Ben Standig of The Athletic. Serving multiple stints with the team since 1999, Blacken had risen to his role from years as a strength and conditioning coach.

Joining Blacken in departure will be college scout Harrison Ritcher. According to Neil Stratton of SucceedinFootball.com, Ritcher is headed to Atlanta to serve as a national scout for the Falcons, reuniting with former Washington staffer, and current assistant general manager in Atlanta, Kyle Smith. Ritcher had been with the team since 2017.

Lastly, the Commanders will be adding Jack Quagliarello to the scouting staff as a pro scout, per Stratton. Quagliarello follows Peters from San Francisco after spending last season as a scouting assistant with the 49ers.

Here are a few other staff updates from around the NFL:

  • The 49ers also made some announcements, all to their scouting staff. San Francisco has promoted Josh Williams from national scout to director of scouting & football operations, per Stratton. Williams started with the team in 2011 as a scouting assistant and has quickly risen through the ranks. As a part of the NFL’s accelerator program, Williams is widely considered a future general manager candidate. He’ll work closely with general manager John Lynch and executive vice president of football operations Paraag Marathe in 2024. In addition, Stratton notes that Ryan Schutta has been hired as a scouting assistant, filling the role vacated by Quagliarello’s departure mentioned above.
  • Following his retirement, we learned that former Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater would join the Patriots staff in a full-time role. Now, Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald tells us a bit more about Slater’s new role. Kyed says that, while Slater “hasn’t advanced into a coaching role” just yet, he will serve an advisory role on the staff in 2024.
  • The Colts had reportedly finalized their 2024 coaching staff back in March, but we did note that they planned to announce two Tony Dungy Diversity Fellowship hires at the time. The team has officially made such announcements, per team writer JJ Stankevitz, naming Kalon Humphries and Diego Ortiz as the two fellows. Indianapolis also announced a title change for Joe Hastings, who will now serve as senior assistant special teams coach, and the hiring of Brent Stockstill as a defensive assistant. Stockstill makes his NFL coaching debut after five years coaching at the collegiate level with a focus on offense.
  • Lastly, the Panthers have added Brad Obee as their new Midwest scout, according to Stratton. Over 21 years with the Bears and Eagles, Obee has spent time in numerous scouting roles, often focusing on pro scouting. He most recently spent the last three seasons as an area scout for Philadelphia, departing after the expiration of his contract.