Carolina Panthers

Panthers, Hackett agree to contract

CHARLOTTE -- Torn between the young and the old opposite Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers found some middle ground Monday in their search for a second wide receiver.

The Panthers agreed to a two-year, $3.5 million contract with Seattle wideout D.J. Hackett, bringing a bigger complement in who's neither too inexperienced to contribute or in the twilight of his career.

According to agent Kevin Robinson, the chance at a starting job and the atmosphere were two of the things that appealed to Hackett, making him leave his native West Coast when many around the league thought he was looking for leverage to get a better offer out of the Seahawks.

The 6-foot-2, 208-pound Hackett's perfectly positioned to vault the 21-year-old Dwayne Jarrett and the turning-35 Muhsin Muhammad for a starting role, although he's worked mostly in the slot and as a third receiver with the Seahawks.

"We're fortunate to be able to add a guy like him to our mix," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "He's got good size, good hands, and he's been productive -- he looks like a good fit."

Hackett's started 14 games the last three seasons with Seattle, catching 105 passes for 1,394 yards (13.3 per) and nine touchdowns.

While he's missed time with injuries, he's been productive when he's out there, catching 73 passes in 2005 and 2006 amid a deep receiving corps. The Panthers struggled through the inconsistency of Drew Carter and the mysterious disappearance of Keary Colbert the last three years, dying on the vine waiting for someone to take some pressure off Smith.

Hackett could be that guy, although the big question about him has been his durability, since he's missed 31 of a possible 64 games.

That number's a point of contention with his camp, saying it casts him in an unfair light.

He landed on injured reserve his rookie year with what the Seahawks called a "hip flexor injury," after he was inactive the first seven weeks of the season.

Robinson said Hackett actually was suffering from a bout of osteitis pubis, an inflammation of the hip that wasn't necessarily season-ending. It's the kind of condition that's treated with rest and rehab, and not the kind of thing that necessarily raises a red flag for teams.

"D.J. really feels like he's gotten a raw deal on that one," Robinson said of the reputation. "He was essentially healthy when they put him on IR, and now he's labeled injury-prone. That's not the case at all."

The Seahawks did what many teams do with talented, but not-ready kids -- they let the ones with less-than-catastrophic injuries go on IR as a redshirt season. Former Panthers running back Eric Shelton suffered a similar fate his rookie year (2005), when a four-to-six-week foot injury shelved him for the entire year.

Getting on the field might have caused him to be released quicker, as the Panthers parted ways with him last year before the season started.

Aside from that "injury," Hackett has battled ankle problems, the most prominent the high ankle sprain that kept him off the field for 10 games last season. They came in six- and four-week spurts, but in between he had a solid month.

Those problems vary in terms of severity and recovery time. Some milder cases allow guys back on the field in less than a month. That was the case with Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who missed three games around the bye week with that injury in 2006.

Dallas receiver Terrell Owens had two weeks to recover from his late last year before getting back on the field in the playoffs, while hockey star Sidney Crosby has missed nearly two months because of his.

"When we were looking at him, we saw a guy who was productive, and missed some time last year with a legitimate injury," Hurney said. "Those can be serious injuries."

Either way, the Panthers are convinced this isn't a Dan Morgan situation, where potential outweighs results.

They can point to his performance in the playoffs upon the second comeback last year, getting on the field in Week 17 before torching Washington for six catches, 101 yards and a touchdown in a win.

During his visit, Hackett spoke on the phone with Smith, and their conversation apparently went a long way toward convincing him this was the place.

"They mostly talked about the offense, the possibilities that are there," Robinson said. "D.J. got a really good feeling from that, a belief that there's a lot of potential for them to do big things."

Hackett had flown back to his Seattle home Saturday after his visit, and he'll return to Charlotte in time to join the offseason conditioning program next week. The rest of the team, minus a few, started Monday.

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