Carolina Panthers

Re-signing defensive tackle Kyle Love continues Panthers’ quest of adding depth at position

Defensive tackle Kyle Love says he re-signed with the Panthers after talking to four other teams because he's built a home in Charlotte.

"Not technically," Love pointed out.

Although that could be happening soon, too. Love and his wife Constance planned to go house-hunting after he signed his one-year contract Monday morning.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has done some shopping of his own this offseason, beefing up the interior of the defensive line behind starters Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.

Carolina added free agent nose tackle Paul Soliai on a two-year deal worth $7 million last month before bringing back Love a little less than a month after he became a free agent.

And Gettleman might not be done.

He proved in his first draft with the Panthers -- when he took Lotulelei and Short in the first two rounds -- there's no such thing as too much along the defensive line.

Considering defensive tackle is the deepest position in the draft, a lot of folks -- including Panthers coach Ron Rivera, judging by his comments at the NFL annual meetings last month -- expect Gettleman to take another one this year.

"Oh yeah. I'm sure he would do that," Love said Monday in a phone interview. "You kind of really have to because you never know what happens during camp. It's a game where people get injured. You don't want people to get injured, but you have to have a backup plan."

Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler will visit the Panthers this week, while Alabama defensive tackle Jarran Reed will be in Charlotte next week.

Reed, a 6-foot-3, 307-pound run-stuffer, is considered a first-round prospect who could be available when the Panthers pick 30th. Butler, a 6-4, 323-pounder who was impressive at the Senior Bowl practices, is projected to go in the second round.

Gettleman soon will be tying up a lot of money at defensive tackle when he makes Short one of the highest-paid interior linemen after his breakout season in 2015. The situation with Lotulelei isn't quite as clear.

Regardless, it makes sense from football and financial perspectives to add a top-caliber defensive tackle who won't cost much over the first four years of his contract.

While Short remains the top priority at the position, Gettleman said at the owners meetings the Panthers will pick up the fifth-year club option for Lotulelei at a cost of more than $6 million for 2017. Gettleman also seemed to indicate a desire to lock up Lotulelei with a long-term contract.

Lotulelei missed the first two games last season with a stress reaction in his surgically repaired foot. He finished with career lows in tackles (13) and sacks (one) while Short posted the highest sack total (11) by a Panthers defensive tackle in team history.

The two play different spots in Carolina's 4-3 scheme. Lotulelei, as the nose tackle, usually lines up over the center and absorbs a lot of blocks to allow middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to run free.

Short is a "3 technique" defensive tackle who aligns on the outside shoulder of the guard and tries to knife into the backfield, which Short did as well as anyone in 2015.

But even accounting for the differences in responsibilities and expectations, Short's ascension has served to make Lotulelei's drop in productivity seem more pronounced.

"Once he got confident with that foot he really closed strong," Gettleman said of Lotulelei last month. "He's done everything we wanted. Star has not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination and he's getting better."

Meanwhile, Love returns to the fold after starting two games in place of an injured Lotulelei in 2015. It was an eventful free agency period for Love, who fired his agents, hired a new representative and talked to four teams (Chicago, New Orleans, Seattle and Houston) before staying put.

Love, who played both defensive tackle spots last season, has been with three other organizations (New England, Kansas City and Jacksonville). He says he likes how the Panthers' front office operates.

"They don't shoot you a whole lot of BS, behind-the-scenes stuff," Love said. "They're pretty straightforward and that's what I like about them."

Love likes Charlotte enough that he and his wife on Monday were checking out houses and townhomes within a 15-minute radius of Bank of America Stadium. The couple rented a two-bed apartment last season that they shared with their three children, all under the age of 4.

"It was kind of rough living in an apartment with three little kids," said Love, who is 6-1 and 315 pounds. "I need a little more space."

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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