Carolina Panthers

Panthers trade Jenkins to Jets for draft picks

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers got smaller Friday.

But perhaps as importantly, they got quieter.

The Panthers finally cut the cord with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, shipping him to the New York Jets for third- and fifth-round picks in this year's draft.

"After talking to Kris, we just felt like this was the time to make the move," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said.

Jenkins got what he wanted -- a bigger market, closer to his Washington D.C.-area home and a fat new contract. According to his agent, the Jets have agreed to a new seven-year, $35 million pact, which includes $20 million in guarantees.

"Kris is very happy with the way this all worked out," his agent, Tony Paige, said.

While it's hard to argue the Panthers are a better team without Jenkins -- at least until you see what they do with the draft picks -- there are a number of factors that are clear to see.

They'll give up a bit on run defense, a not insignificant part of this equation. They're replacing the gigantic Jenkins with the merely huge Damione Lewis, dropping at least 60 pounds up front in the process.

The Panthers were better against the run last year than first glance would indicate. They ranked fourth in the league in yards allowed per attempt, and their 18th-place finish in rushing yards allowed was due mostly to a horrid offense that left them perpetually behind and opponents could just keep running. And as long as Lewis is paired with mammoth Maake Kemoeatu, they're still big up front, just not as big.

They hope the tradeoff is a better pass rush, which was one of the worst in the league last year, generating just 23.0 sacks, 14.5 of them by linemen. Lewis, who played roughly half the snaps as the designated inside rusher, led the team with 3.5.

"Basically, it gives us a chance to put more speed on the field," Lewis said Friday. "I mean, Maake's still big, but it gives us a chance to go with a smaller, quicker line that's going to be able to do some different things.

"We've got to be able to get some more rush on the corner, too. It takes all four. We know we had a rough season, and we have to hone in on getting to the quarterback. But we take it as a challenge."

Hurney said the team was still going to have to add linemen, and they began the process Friday by having former Atlanta defensive tackle Rod Coleman in for a visit. Oakland defensive end Tyler Brayton arrived Friday night for a visit, though those names are far from what most fans were expecting.

"I think we'll be active, but steady active," Hurney said, which means they're looking for more strategic moves rather than the carpet-bombing the league witnessed Friday, when huge deals flew off the shelves in the opening hours.

Hurney said being able to add two picks was the key to the deal. They now have four of the top 73 picks, and recouped a fifth after giving theirs to Chicago last year for safety Chris Harris. He mentioned the "flexibility" the deal gave them, though it created an immediate hole in the middle of the defense.

But the lack of sound coming from that hole serves as a relief, as well. Lewis said he credited Jenkins for "not bringing his drama to work," but the Panthers were genuinely aware that Jenkins didn't want to be in Charlotte. He didn't mind saying so, taking numerous occasions to talk about how he wished he were elsewhere.

"He just felt like it was time to move on," Paige said. "It wasn't just about the contract, and it wasn't just about the city, it was the whole situation.

"It was really about Kris being happy, and he is now."

Coupled with some of their other moves, the Panthers have clearly created a more placid workplace. They gave extensions to quiet guys Travelle Wharton and Brad Hoover and used their franchise tag to keep low-key leader Jordan Gross out of the market.

Those deals make the Jenkins trade stand out in sharp relief. As basic as it sounds, they're keeping the guys who show they want to be here.

"I think it's been very clear all along we want players who want to be here," Hurney said. "It's just a decision we made to go in this direction, and we felt it was the right time to do it.

"I think getting into messages and all that, you can overanalyze it."

Maybe so, but the new silence that emanates from the locker room still speaks volumes.

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