CHARLOTTE -- Muhsin Muhammad admitted he left because of the money. But the longer he talked Wednesday, the more he sounded like a guy who realized the grass wasn't as green as his wallet.
Calling his 2005 departure for Chicago (and the accompanying six-year, $30 million contract) a "hurtful thing," Muhammad returned to his original team, signing a two-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. The team also released failed backup quarterback David Carr, but the headliner was the return of the prodigal son.
"A lot of guys are going to sign in the next few weeks, and I think it's hard to imagine anybody bringing as much excitement as Moose did when he came in here," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "Everybody's extremely excited he's back. He just brings an attitude, a work ethic, a toughness. He was somebody who was extremely highly regarded when he was here.
"It was a sad day when he left and it's a happy day now because he's back."
Muhammad was all smiles, because he got to come back to a place which saw him post his best numbers, and get out of a place where the quarterbacks were as cruel to his stat line as the wind blowing off Lake Michigan. The Bears' passing game was as ridiculously helmed as the Panthers' last year, and Muhammad posted just 40 receptions, his fewest since becoming a starter in 1998.
"I'm just happy to be back down here, to have an opportunity to play with a quarterback that's established in the league," he said of teammate Jake Delhomme. "I think people down here can really appreciate what Jake has done for the team. After losing him, you can see that he was a better quarterback than everybody gave him credit for."
The same can be said for Muhammad, since the Panthers never appropriately replaced him.
They tried the committee approach and youth in 2005 and 2007, and dropped $6 million on a one-year rental of Keyshawn Johnson in 2006. But they failed to realize any improvement in the passing game from the day Muhammad left.
The investment in the veteran wideout's much smaller this time (terms were undisclosed, although he's making less than $2 million per year), but they're hoping for more of a return.
If they can, they still hope to start 21-year-old Dwayne Jarrett, last year's second-round pick. When asked about Muhammad's role with the Panthers, Hurney said, "Obviously, he's somebody we think is going to play a very important role for us."
Muhammad said the discussions haven't been specific, but he's comfortable with whatever comes his way.
"Coming in, I really expect to just do what the team needs me to do," Muhammad said. "I'm not sure exactly what that's going to be right off the bat. Whether that's a No. 2 receiver or a No. 3 receiver, we'll see what happens with that.
"Obviously as a No. 3 receiver, I don't think you can expect to come in and catch 100 balls and a-thousand-and-some yards, but if I'm a No. 3 receiver, then they're going to have a real good No. 3 receiver on the field."
Muhammad joked that he's already negotiated his old No. 87 away from tight end Jeff King, and that he hoped to stay long enough to "eventually work on getting my statue out there in front of the stadium."
And although he'll turn 35 in May, with statistics in an obvious decline, the team and the player seem certain he's not losing a step.
Hurney rattled off the list of positives, saying "when you watch him, he's still a very good player."
"I don't feel any different, to be honest with you," Muhammad said. "I feel like my production and my play hasn't dwindled enough to say 'This guy can't play the game anymore.'
"The eye in the sky don't lie. Anybody wants to turn on the film and judge me on the way I play the game throughout my career, they know that I still got a lot of football left in me."
Cutting Carr was the anticlimax of the offseason, and not just because he saves them $2.1 million worth of salary cap space. They released him before paying him a $1.1 million roster bonus, and he'll still count $1.5 million against this year's cap.
The former No. 1 overall pick of Houston was brought in to serve as an upgrade at backup quarterback. While he openly hoped for a chance to sit and watch, his plan was scuttled when Delhomme was lost for the season in Week 3.
From there, the pitfalls outnumbered the few occasions he looked like what he was supposed to be.
He was eventually replaced by 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde and 23-year-old Matt Moore, and was the inactive third down the stretch, after the coaching staff admitted they didn't want to put him in front of the hostile home crowds.
He helped them make history by being one of four to post a win as a starter, something that hadn't been done in 10 years.