Carolina Panthers

Panthers' 3rd-round draft pick in fold

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers signed third-round draft pick Charles Johnson Monday, giving them three of their eight picks this year under contract and a solid chunk of their future defensive line in place.

The 83rd overall pick, Johnson signed a four-year deal worth $2.375 million, with a $710,000 signing bonus. There's an escalator built into the deal which would take his final year base salary from $550,000 to $1.2 million if he hits certain attainable playing time incentives.

Johnson might hit them this year, but his role here for the future is most important.

Veteran starting right end Mike Rucker's coming back from a late-season knee injury, and was nearing the end of his career anyway. His contract expires after the 2007 season. And while they're expected to sign left end Julius Peppers to an extension at some point, the Panthers are glad to have reasonably priced youngsters Johnson and Stanley McClover to go with him.

Drafting an end became a necessity with Rucker's injury and the release of veteran Al Wallace earlier this offseason.

The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Johnson had 14.5 sacks in his career at Georgia, putting him in the school's top ten despite the fact he left college a year early. He also had 62 pressures, six forced fumbles and three recoveries. He led the Bulldogs with 9.5 sacks last season.

The Panthers had previously signed fourth-round wide receiver Ryne Robinson and fifth-round tight end Dante Rosario.

With a week and a half before players report to training camp (July 27), there's plenty of time to get the rest done. The remaining late-round picks are relatively formulaic, and the only real concern at this point is that none of the second-round picks league-wide had signed prior to Monday. The Panthers have two second-rounders, wideout Dwayne Jarrett and center Ryan Kalil.

To make room for Johnson on the roster, the Panthers released undrafted rookie defensive tackle Marques Thornton. They'll have to cut five more players when they sign their remaining picks.