Carolina Panthers

Panthers add LB Johnson, RB Toefield

CHARLOTTE -- The Carolina Panthers loved their linebackers. They just weren't sure they'd have liked the group as much if one got hurt.

The Panthers provided themselves cover Friday morning, agreeing to a three-year deal with Cincinnati's Landon Johnson. Then they signed Jacksonville running back LaBrandon Toefield to a one-year deal in the afternoon, making it their biggest day of importing talent since the free-agency period began a week ago.

Johnson will make $10 million over the course of the contract, the biggest money they've spent so far this offseason. Toefield's was for $645,000, more in line with the selections they've made thus far.

Initially, Johnson (who'll turn 27 next week) will compete with Na'il Diggs for the starting weakside job. But it's his versatility that won the Panthers over, since he started at all three linebacker positions in his four years with the Bengals.

"He's a very versatile, very smart linebacker," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "He can play multiple positions, he's got very good instincts, he provides a lot of what we're looking for."

Being able to cover multiple spots was a key. With the Bengals, he started 21 games on the weak side, 20 in the middle and 12 on the strong side.

Carolina hasn't had that kind of insurance since Chris Draft left last year for St. Louis, though Johnson's actually reminiscent of another former Panther -- Will Witherspoon. Making up for a lack of size (6-foot-2, 232 pounds) with his speed, Johnson was a steady player for the Bengals wherever they put him. He led the Bengals in tackles three of his four seasons, hasn't missed a game, and started all 16 each of the last two seasons.

The chance to start in Charlotte, which hasn't been promised, was significant in his turning away the Bengals' late bid to keep him.

"Landon's very excited to be there," agent Andy Simms said. "He just liked everything about it; the city, the organization, the team, all of it."

If he starts, Johnson would join Jon Beason and Thomas Davis in a young, fast grouping. Even with Diggs, a solid eight-year veteran, the Panthers' linebackers became the strength of the defense in 2007 as the front four sagged. Adding Johnson should serve to keep it that way.

Bringing the 27-year-old Toefield in adds some depth and size to a group that lacked both.

Listed at 5-foot-11, 232 pounds, he has more short-yardage potential than projected starter DeAngelo Williams.

Toefield, a former fourth-round pick from LSU, spent five years with the Jaguars, the last two buried behind Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew on the depth chart.

He has 163 carries for 572 yards and seven touchdowns in his career, but just 23 attempts the last two seasons.

"Just the opportunity to get on the field and play," agent Terry Bolar said when asked why the Panthers interested his client. "He liked the situation there, and we think he brings something to them."

Hurney said the contrast in styles was beneficial.

"His style's a good complement to the guys we have on hand," Hurney said. "He's really an excellent back. We were just able to offer him the kind of opportunities he hasn't had lately."