CHARLOTTE -- A year ago this time, all the talk was there, but defensive tackle Kris Jenkins never did leave the Panthers.
This time, enough things have changed that the result could, as well.
Jenkins figures to be one of the hot topics of hallway conversations between personnel types when teams gather for next week's Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. While the Panthers listened to some overtures last year, they never traded the big man, but might be more inclined to this year.
While they haven't moved much from their public stance, enough small things have changed in regards to Jenkins that all the smoke might actually lead to a fire this time.
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For one, Jenkins is making a more concerted effort to sell his South Charlotte home. He moved out of it last season, but he's recently turned up attempts to move the house.
But it's not just the housing market that could indicate his days here are dwindling. Since backup defensive tackle Damione Lewis signed a three-year, $14 million deal contributes to the perception that Jenkins might finally be leaving. That's mid-level starter money, although the Panthers have long paid premium prices for backups such as Al Wallace and Shane Burton to keep their line strong.
In and of themselves, none of the pieces of circumstantial evidence are enough to prove anything.
But add to it that Jenkins isn't happy in Charlotte -- dating back to the Panthers' refusal to give him a raise last year -- and that many in the organization are tired of listening to some of his rants, there's a much better chance he opens the 2008 campaign elsewhere.
Jenkins won't be the only Panther involved in trade talks this week. DeShaun Foster's available (though they're expected to release him if they can't move him), and several league sources have indicated that center Justin Hartwig could be acquired, as well. Of course, they were trying to trade Jenkins and Foster last year without success, so nothing's guaranteed.
• ALGE NOT GROWING YET: The Panthers are expected to be among the teams most interested in just-released Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler.
The only problem? He's not officially free yet, in the eyes of the league. According to league sources, Crumpler's name wasn't on the league's waiver wire Friday afternoon. The Falcons announced they had cut Crumpler and six other players well before the 4 p.m. deadline to submit transactions to the league, but the paperwork was never filed to New York.
As a practical matter, that means Crumpler won't be available to other teams until Monday afternoon, assuming the league receives the proper notification by then. That could also mean that his signing could take a while, since all the teams send their medical staffs to Indianapolis next week to review the medical files of the prospects at the combine.
The Panthers and every other team will want a close look at the 30-year-old Crumpler's left knee, which was a problem for him last year after having offseason "cleanup" surgery in 2007. The four-time Pro Bowler posted his worst numbers last year as a result, with a 10.6-yard-per-catch average that was nearly 2.0 yards lower than his previous low in that category. (Of course, the absence of Michael Vick also contributed to his dip.)
And you can't blame the Panthers for wanting to give him a thorough physical. After all, they've been burned by Falcon knees before, as a previous administration found out the hard way after signing the used-up Chuck Smith in 2000.
• NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Aside from the other $35 million reasons, left tackle Travelle Wharton said staying close to home was a huge factor in deciding to stay with the Panthers last week. The Fountain Inn native and former USC Gamecock said it was a "relief" not having to test free agency.
"Now I don't have to pack up and move to the other side of the country somewhere," Wharton laughed. "Now my family knows where I'm going to be, so they all know who to root for for a while.
"(Leaving) crossed my mind a few times, but in my heart I knew where I wanted to be."
When asked if his "other side of the country" statement indicated some potential landing spots, he laughed again.
"If it ain't Atlanta," he said. "You're pretty much going to be in the air to get back to South Carolina one way or another."
• EXTRA POINTS: The Panthers coaches and staff are leaving Tuesday for the Combine, which could dictate their upcoming moves.
Figure that right tackle Jordan Gross will get his non-exclusive franchise tag Monday, which will guarantee him a one-year, $7.455 million contract and cost potential suitors two first-round picks to sign him away. ...
The Panthers have been working on a number of smaller deals with their own backups and special teamers, and any of those not done Monday could drag out because the braintrust is tied up evaluating college prospects.