Carolina Panthers

No deal yet, but franchise tag coming for Gross

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers are going to place the franchise tag on right tackle Jordan Gross at some point in the next three days.

Whether they're going to ever get his name on a long-term contract appears to be in much more doubt.

The Panthers didn't file the necessary paperwork Monday -- though they fully intend to before Thursday's deadline -- but the possibility of an amicable settlement for the future now seems murky. When reached Monday, Gross' representative didn't offer much optimism toward the big-picture goal.

Agent Ethan Lock was asked where they were in their progress toward a long-term deal, and he replied: "Obviously, if they're tagging him, then it's nowhere."

Lock said he didn't want to comment further on the process, and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney likewise declined to comment on the state of the negotiations. Last week, Gross told The Herald: "It's not like we're in a different book, we're just on different pages."

The franchise tag will guarantee Gross a one-year deal worth $7.455 million, and buys the team time to work out something longer. It also provides the promise of compensation if someone really wants him, as another team would have to give up two first-round picks to sign him away.

That's unlikely to happen, which means the Panthers have made sure to keep their two starting tackles out of a thin free-agent market, following last week's six-year, $35 million deal with Travelle Wharton.

Gross has said since before the Super Bowl he expected the tag, and mentioned last week that it appeared the Panthers were waiting to deal with him until they took care of other matters first. The Panthers could significantly reduce the salary cap burden if they could strike a deal, though that doesn't appear likely at the moment.

As it pertains to the future, the Panthers could continue to put the tag on Gross to keep him, though neither side wants that to happen. Seattle did it three straight years with tackle Walter Jones before finally reaching a long-term deal in 2005.

For the Panthers to keep tagging him, they'd have to bump Gross' salary to next year's franchise number or 120 percent of this year's tag, whichever is higher.

Based on the average of the top five salaries at each position, the franchise tag been as high as $9.556 million in 2007, but fell 22 percent to this year's figure. Since the franchise calculation is based on salary cap numbers rather than actual money earned, it can fluctuate wildly on an annual basis.

So to extrapolate, it would mean at least a hypothetical one-year, $8.946 million payout in 2009 unless the franchise tag takes a big jump again, and at least $10.735 million in 2010 based on that set of numbers.

So while that three-year payout of $27.136 million sounds nice, the salient point is that it's only guaranteed year-to-year, which doesn't offer much security to the player in the event of an injury. If they did a long-term deal now, the three-year payout would likely be in that same ballpark, but a far greater portion of it would be guaranteed in the form of signing bonus.

In other news, the President's Day holiday will keep the Panthers (and other teams) from getting their hands on a number of players whose releases have been announced.

That group includes Atlanta tight end Alge Crumpler, who the Panthers are expected to pursue once they can give him a thorough physical to determine the health of his knees. Also Monday, Chicago announced it was cutting former Panthers receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who could be an intriguing case to watch since the Panthers never properly replaced him after releasing him prior to the 2005 season.