CHARLOTTE -- The Panthers didn't necessarily want to use the franchise tag this year, but it actually benefited them on several fronts.
Not only did it allow them to hang on to right tackle Jordan Gross, but it also pushed some players into the market they might be interested in and might have created more of a market for a guy they'd like to move. A total of 11 players got the franchise tag and one the transition tag, knocking a huge hole out of the top of the free-agent market in general.
But a few of the specific moves should help them.
When Tennessee put the franchise tag on Albert Haynesworth and Green Bay did the same with Corey Williams, it took the top two defensive tackles out of the market before it began. That created a situation where the best player available is likely former Atlanta inside-rusher Rod Coleman, and the drop-off from there is significant, unless teams want to go old (Sam Adams, Ted Washington).
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Given that lack of impact players, it increases the potential market for Kris Jenkins, since there's not another free agent with his ability to make plays. The Panthers would happily trade him, and Jenkins wouldn't fight a change of scenery, either. After covering themselves by keeping Damione Lewis, the Panthers could find themselves in a better position to deal Jenkins than a year ago, when this saga began. Detroit's looking to move Shaun Rogers, as well, which would present an obvious comparison. Both Rogers and Jenkins turn 29 this year, both have Pro Bowl credentials and both have worn out their welcome.
• DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH: Since no one wants Gross to play out the year under the terms of the franchise tag, there's a growing possibility that he might. While the one-year, $7.455 million deal sounds good on the surface, it's really good for no one in the long run. The player could gain more guaranteed money, the team a break on the salary cap and the agent a bigger commission with a long-term deal. And while all sides are saying the right things publicly, the undercurrent's getting stronger that Gross might not get that beneficial deal anytime soon.
His agent's no stranger to protracted contract issues, having presided over some of the messier deals in recent years. Ethan Lock and partners Eric Metz and Vance Malinovic remain one of the highest-profile firms in the business, and have done many deals without problems.
But they also represented Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the top overall pick whose holdout last year cost him a shot to be the Raiders' starting quarterback last year. They had Joey Galloway during his messy divorce with Seattle and have been party to holdouts with first-round picks John Tait and Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City and Erasmus James and second-rounder Sidney Rice in Minnesota. There are mitigating factors in several of those cases, including a they brokered a trade and got Galloway the contract he wanted before being fired and Tait was insulted by what he felt was the bully tactics of Chiefs GM Carl Peterson.
• EXTRA POINTS: While there was a flurry of activity before the combine, the pace of deals slowed when everyone went to Indianapolis to check out the draft prospects.
The Panthers have offered contracts to a number of their own free agents, including fullback Brad Hoover, cornerback Dante Wesley and linebacker Terrence Melton -- who spent last year on injured reserve, but not before winning over the coaching staff. ...
They've also talked with incumbent free safety Deke Cooper, but he'll go into the market because of the language of his old contract. They got a salary cap break last year since Cooper signed what's known as a "minimum salary benefit" deal, and those players can only be extended with another such deal. Cooper's going to see if anyone will offer him a signing bonus before he opts for another cut-rate pact. ...
The Panthers are expected to tender contracts to all three of their restricted free agents next week. Of the lot, only Geoff Hangartner figures to merit more than the minimum compensation of $927,000, since he's been a starter, and the market's extremely thin. It's still unlikely anyone would give up a fifth-round pick to sign Hangartner away, but the Panthers have gone higher on RFA tenders in the past, overspending on Drew Carter, Jordan Carstens and Michael Gaines last year, giving all three the higher second-round tenders.
If they wanted to make sure they kept Hangartner, they could put this year's second-round tender of $1.47 million on him. The other RFAs are backups Evan Mathis (third) and Adam Seward (fifth), who no one would sign away for original draft-round compensation, making it reasonable that they'll get the low offers.