Peppers, Gross negotiations stall things for Panthers

The HeraldFebruary 15, 2009 

CHARLOTTE -- If you're waiting for the Panthers to move on Jordan Gross and Julius Peppers so they can get on with other business, you're not alone.

The rest of their potential free agents, and the agents who represent them, were all singing the same tune last week because of the delay.

The Panthers have until 4 p.m. Thursday to decide how to use the franchise tag. They'd like to sign Gross first so they can tag Peppers and get something for him. But not much is expected on either front until the moments just before that deadline.

That has left the rest of the potential free agents in limbo.

This is where there would normally be a quote from general manager Marty Hurney, but he didn't return phone calls last week.

The reasons for team officials going dark are multiple.

One, until the Panthers figure out what to do with the big-ticket guys, there's not much time or funds left over for the rest of their pending free agents. Secondly, the new rules put in place to deal with the looming uncapped year in 2010 are going to make all negotiations more complicated this spring, not just for the Panthers.

From a more practical perspective, the Panthers braintrust also has been busy. Both sides of the football operation -- coaches and scouting -- were bunkered last week in personnel meetings, getting ready for this week's scouting combine. Those are long days of reviewing film and watching notes, not exchanging proposals with agents.

Expect the pace to pick up next week, since all the agents will be in Indianapolis with the teams. But for now, the phones have been quiet.

In addition to Peppers and Gross, the Panthers have seven other unrestricted free agents, some of whom they would like to hang onto: Offensive linemen Geoff Hangartner and Frank Omiyale, long snapper Jason Kyle, return man Mark Jones, special teamers/linebackers Donte Curry and Adam Seward and defensive tackle Darwin Walker.

-- NOTICE A TREND?: The writers who cover the Panthers haven't talked to coach John Fox since the day after the season. But with each defensive coaching hire, the team's PR staff kindly sends out a statement from him.

Of new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks, Fox said: "He is an outstanding teacher."

Of new secondary coach Ron Milus, he added: "Ron has had success as a secondary coach for the last decade and is an outstanding teacher."

Of new defensive line coach Brian Baker: "Brian is a veteran coach and excellent teacher."

Who do teachers normally work with? Young kids?

Ding, ding, ding.

If you're expecting a bunch of free agent signings to fix the problems on defense, it's worth filing away that they might not fit the mold decided upon by the boss. Sounds like the team is going to look for draft picks to revive that side of the ball.

-- SNAP TO IT: The names are barely recognizable, but last week's signings of Joe Zelenka in Jacksonville and Ethan Albright in Washington might be a signal to what the Panthers are thinking at a key position.

Those two, along with Kyle, were among the six unrestricted free agent long snappers. That leaves just Kyle and three other veterans available for those teams looking for one.

Kyle said last week his agent has talked to the Panthers, but didn't get a sense a deal was imminent.

With the supply of veterans beginning to dwindle -- teams with good ones rarely let them go -- it'll be interesting to see how they proceed with Kyle.

They did sign Canadian long snapper Patrick MacDonald last month, but it's hard to imagine with such a veteran special teams corps that they'd trust such an important job to an untested player, unless the savings (no more than $1 million worth of cap room) is enough of a motivating factor.

-- EXTRA POINTS: Local radio hosts and former Panthers Frank Garcia and Brentson Buckner endorsed the recent hires of linebackers coach Richard Smith and Milus.

Garcia, the ex-offensive lineman was with Milus in Arizona in 2003, and described him (without reading Fox's notes) as "a very good teacher." Buckner, who was with San Francisco when Smith coached there, said Smith was a vocal and aggressive leader of his group. "You will know where the linebackers are on the practice field," Buckner said with a laugh. ...

Former Panthers cornerback Curtis Deloatch was arrested Friday afternoon, and remained at the Mecklenburg County jail without bond. Deloatch was charged with one misdemeanor count of assault on a female, non-aggressive force. Deloatch played in Charlotte in 2007, when he bounced repeatedly on and off the roster before blowing out his knee. He was cut at the end of training camp last season.

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