CHARLOTTE -- The price of playing tag is going down instead of up, and that just increases the already excellent chances of the Panthers retaining potential free-agent tackle Jordan Gross.
A year ago, the cost to apply the franchise tag to an offensive lineman was $9.556 million, the average of the top five salary cap numbers at the position. That was a 36.8 percent jump from 2006, when the franchise number for blockers (centers, guards and tackles are lumped together for the calculation) was $6.983 million. But this year, the cost of the tag will be a more reasonable $7.455 million, a 22 percent drop. It's a steep price for a one-year deal, but one the Panthers would almost certainly prefer to losing one of their cornerstone players without compensation.
"That's what we anticipate," Gross said last week, while vacationing in Idaho. "It's a possibility, sure, but I wouldn't say it's the No. 1 possibility.
"The only way it's going to happen is if we couldn't agree to a (long-term) deal, and I'm still confident things are going to work out."
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The Panthers would have to declare whether they're going to use the tag by Feb. 21, just over a week from the start of free agency. If they do so, it would cost another team two first-round picks to sign him away. If they used the transition tag (average of the top 10 cap numbers, or $6.895 million), they'd have right of first refusal on any other deal, but no compensation if he left. The Panthers have used the franchise tag just once, on punter Todd Sauerbrun in 2003 before signing him to an extension that fall. They put the transition tag on running back DeShaun Foster in 2006, but rescinded it just before signing him to a three-year deal.
Given that the 27-year-old Gross is arguably the top free agent at a thin position this offseason, it makes keeping him out of the market imperative, since there are plenty of teams with more salary-cap room to spend. The only other comparably talented tackle available is Dallas' Flozell Adams, who, at 31, is in his prime. Gross is viewed by scouts as an ascending player, coming off his best season.
• DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME: With all the recent concern about finding a second wide receiver to play opposite Steve Smith, one of the current candidates plans to take steps to reinsert himself into the conversation.
The agent for second-year wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett said last week that his client was planning to use this offseason to prove he belongs. Jarrett's returning to Charlotte this week to work out with a personal trainer, a month before the start of the team's offseason-conditioning work.
"Dwayne wants to show the Panthers he's very determined to get out there," agent Darin Morgan said. "He's making a commitment to improve himself however he can."
• LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD: In a bit of news that's far more concerning to fans than team administration, there's a new Drew Rosenhaus client here.
Linebacker Jon Beason recently signed on with the super-agent, whose aggressive style has generated many critics. The Panthers have never been among them, as Rosenhaus is viewed as a straightforward negotiator, who can get big deals done quickly.
It'll be some time before Rosenhaus comes into play for Beason, anyway, since he's just one year into his five-year rookie deal. Beason was originally represented by agent Michael Huyghue, who is no longer certified by the NFLPA. Huyghue is getting out of the business to concentrate on his new job, as the commissioner of the fledgling UFL.
It's hardly a surprise Beason chose Rosenhaus, as the agent has a solid foothold with University of Miami players, including Beason's pal, workout partner and for-now teammate Dan Morgan.