Pro Bowl might be last game as a Panther for two

The HeraldFebruary 7, 2009 

CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers will be well-represented in the Pro Bowl, though it figures to be a farewell party for at least one of them.

Four Panthers will play in today's game -- defensive end Julius Peppers, left tackle Jordan Gross, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Jon Beason.

Of the group, Peppers and Gross are about to become unrestricted free agents, and the Panthers are expected to lose at least one of them.

They're still working on a long-term contract with Gross, and if they can reach one in the next two weeks, they can then use the franchise tag on Peppers. He has already stated through his agent that he wants out of Charlotte, so the potential exists for the team to tag him for the purpose of a trade. Such a move would likely yield multiple draft picks, including a first-rounder.

Gross can force the Panthers' hand, however, if he doesn't reach a deal by then, since they can't afford to lose both.

While it would cost them $16.683 million to tag Peppers (before he'd come off the books in a trade), they could guarantee Gross stays with a more modest $8.946 million deal. The preference would clearly be to hammer out a long-term deal for Gross before the Feb. 19 deadline to use the franchise tag. Neither side is commenting on the process, but several sources indicated last week that they're working toward that goal.

CAP ROOM AVAILABLE: Every year, the Panthers' salary cap situation looks dire on the surface, only to turn out not so bad.

This year, they're in the neighborhood of $10 million under the $123 million cap, but there's plenty of room available with some planned moves.

The first is with cornerback Chris Gamble, whose contract extension last fall included a $10 million roster bonus payable this year.

Just as the Panthers did with Smith's extension a few years ago, it was built that way on purpose. The Panthers will guarantee Gamble's bonus, and get to prorate that amount over the remaining six years of the deal.

That move alone will save them $8.4 million in immediate cap room.

Likewise, they can extend a few contracts (such as quarterback Jake Delhomme's) and clear more as needed, along with what they save in any roster cuts.

GLIMPSE AT THE FUTURE: Former practice-squad quarterback Brett Basanez signed with his hometown Chicago Bears last week, even though the Panthers had offered him a chance to come back.

Had Basanez accepted the Panthers' offer, the top four spots on their depth chart would have returned intact, since Delhomme and backups Josh McCown and Matt Moore are also back. Basanez said he was hoping for a better chance to compete for a job, one he didn't think he had in Charlotte.

"Once coach (John) Fox decided to keep Matt as the third last year, I knew I'd be going into the preseason this year with the same aspirations," Basanez said. "I don't want to be in the same situation again, I want to have a fair shake at a job."

He has that with the Bears, but the fact the Panthers offered him a chance to come back indicates they're fairly happy with things as they are. They will likely add another quarterback for camp, but it's not expected to be a priority this offseason.

CLIMBING FAST: Beason will play in the first of what should be many Pro Bowls today, but he is already making a sizable dent in the team's record books.

Beason was credited with 160 tackles this season, giving him 319 in two seasons. That moved him to 11th place on the team's all-time tackles list. Those numbers are different than the ones the league tracks on its Web site, because the local stats are compiled by coaches when they grade game tape.

It's impressive because of the top 10 tacklers in Panthers history, the only two to play fewer than four seasons in Charlotte were linebackers Micheal Barrow and Sam Mills.

If Beason maintains his current pace, he could move as high as third on the list next season, passing Peppers (467). Of course, he has two active teammates ahead of him with cornerback Gamble eighth (382) and linebacker Thomas Davis ninth (345).

Safety Mike Minter is the all-time leader with 953 stops, followed by defensive end Mike Rucker with 553.

EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers are still waiting to announce the rest of their coaching staff, as they still lack position coaches for the defensive line, linebackers and secondary. There's more turnover than normal around the league this year, as just 11 teams (Atlanta, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Miami, New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego) will go into next season with the same defensive coordinator that finished 2008.

It's complicated nailing down a staff, as assistants can shop multiple offers around. The Panthers were hoping to have the process finished before the Super Bowl, but it's taking longer than they imagined.

There are loads of veteran assistants still scrambling for jobs, with several longtime coordinators looking at position-coach jobs. ...

CFL running back Stefan Logan was scheduled to work out for the Panthers last week, but opted to sign with Pittsburgh when the world champs offered him a contract, according to the Vancouver Sun. Nicknamed "Joystick" by his B.C. Lions teammates, he's a potential return specialist.

daringantt@carolina.rr.com

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