CHARLOTTE -- A process that's taken more than a year could be getting closer to a resolution, as it appears the Carolina Panthers are moving closer to a deal with left tackle Jordan Gross.
If they can finalize a deal by Thursday afternoon, it would represent a double win for the team, as they'd then be able to place their franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers for the purpose of trading him.
The Panthers have been negotiating on a long-term deal with Gross since last offseason when they eventually franchised him, and there's a strong chance they would have again this year -- even at the cost of letting Peppers go for nothing.
The NFL Network's Adam Schefter reported Monday night that the two sides made "significant progress," toward a deal that would pay Gross in the neighborhood of $9 million a year. Multiple league sources confirmed to The Herald Monday night that both sides had moved a great deal in recent days. The deal's not yet done, but they're closer than they've been since a year ago this time.
Thursday's deadline for the franchise tag was incentive enough, but Peppers himself threw fuel on the fire over the weekend by making clear he'd ask for a trade if the Panthers tagged him.
Since they couldn't risk losing both their Pro Bowl free agents without compensation, that ratcheted up the pressure on the Panthers to move on a deal for Gross.
Keeping the 28-year-old Gross, has been a priority for the Panthers, since they've finally gotten their offensive line to a point that it's a strength rather than a weakness.
After using the franchise tag to keep him a year ago, the Panthers traded their 2009 first-rounder (and two picks last year) to get back into the first round to take right tackle Jeff Otah. Combined with signing left guard Travelle Wharton to a six-year, $35 million contract last offseason and using their 2007 second-rounder on center Ryan Kalil, they've built a line with top-shelf players after more than a decade of patching together odd parts.
And if the cost of that is making Gross the highest-paid player in franchise history, so be it.
Panthers officials haven't commented throughout the process, and general manager Marty Hurney didn't return phone messages Monday night.