CHARLOTTE -- One of the great offseason debates surrounding the Panthers has been about which wide receiver they'd add to complement Steve Smith. Quarterback Jake Delhomme said last week that guy might already be in Charlotte, to the surprise of many.
The speculation about bringing in help began when Delhomme said at the end of the season they needed to add "a playmaker" to ease the burden on Smith. He just wasn't very specific then.
"It just has to be another playmaker somehwere, it doesn't have to be a receiver," Delhomme said. "It could be a running back, a tight end, whatever. The key is just getting Steve some help.
"Everybody in the league knows what Steve can do, he's one of the most dangerous players out there. And they're going to do everything they can to take him away. So we have to have more guys out there with him who can do things."
As to whom that second wide receiver might be, Delhomme issued his first vote of confidence/challenge for second-year wideout Dwayne Jarrett, last year's second-rounder who played in just seven games as a rookie.
"I truly believe Dwayne Jarrett's going to be a big help to us this year," Delhomme said. "He's got the ability, that's easy to see, and last year was honestly a redshirt year for him. He's still young, and he's still learning and getting better.
"He's going to know I'm expecting big things from him, and I have no doubt he's going to come to play this year, to show what he can do."
Jarrett's easily the most talented of the non-Smith receiver group on hand now, though the Panthers will likely continue to throw bulk at the problem rather than one big name. They actually have several guys with promise who fly below the radars of all but the most hardcore fans.
Jason Carter, who was promoted from the practice squad late last year, caught enough eyes to earn a shot at sticking. There's also support in the building for a guy named Dominique Thompson, a recent pickup who was buried on a crowded depth chart in St. Louis before injuries derailed him there. Throw in former first-round pick Travis Taylor, also signed in December, and they've at least got numbers, if not names.
If anything, expect them to continue such low-key additions at the position. It's not as gratifying for fans as dreaming about trades for a Chad Johnson or a Roy Williams, but it's probably closer to what's actually going to happen.
• BIG PICKUP: The Panthers brought back some key depth Saturday when they agreed to a three-year deal with defensive tackle Damione Lewis.
Lewis, who'll turn 30 next month, led all Panthers defensive linemen with 3.5 sacks last year despite playing roughly half the snaps. A quick interior rusher, he was a perfect counter to run-stuffing defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu.
The former first-round pick was decried as a bust in St. Louis, but has found his niche in Charlotte and is viewed as a stabilizing force in the locker room, as well.
The Panthers had a significant advantage in trying to keep him, since he had decided last season to relocate his family from his native Texas to this area, regardless of where he landed this offseason. The low-key Lewis, very much a country boy, said he felt comfortable in Charlotte. After all, this is the town former Panther Brentson Buckner used to call "the married man's paradise."
• SOUNDS FAMILIAR: Even though he said last week he wants to play again, free agent defensive end Mike Rucker hasn't heard back from the Panthers as to whether they want him back.
If the Panthers bring him back at all, it will likely be with the same set of stipulations his friend Mike Minter got last year. Coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney told Minter they were cutting his pay, bringing in competition and promising nothing.
While Rucker said he'd be willing to come back in whatever role, the Panthers already have two developing ends in Charles Johnson and Stanley McClover, and they don't want to block their progress. If they add a starting-caliber end in free agency or the draft, there might not be room for Rucker in the rotation or the roster.
As much as Rucker wants to play, he's also hedged every time he was asked if he were willing to go elsewhere to do so. It's clear he wants to stay in Charlotte, and isn't eager to spoil the finish-where-he-started run which began when the Panthers chose him in the second round of the 1999 draft.
• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers can begin cutting players Monday when the league's waiver period opens. There are a number of likely targets (namely linebacker Dan Morgan and David Carr), but there are a few names which could surprise, even though they shouldn't.
Guard Mike Wahle's due a $1 million roster bonus and a $3 million base salary, which makes it easier to consider parting ways with the 30-year-old blocker. Running back DeShaun Foster could also get it, allowing them to save his $4.75 million base salary. There would still be bonus prorations to deal with, but the Panthers could designate Wahle a post-June 1 cut and spread the hit over two years. Foster's would all hit this year since it's the last of his contract.
Between those two, the Panthers could net right at $5 million worth of cap savings.