NFC South: Carolina Panthers
He made it clear that he was moving forward when asked about the past two years, which he described as "a whirlwind."
He made it clear he didn’t want to discuss guard Richie Incognito -- one of three former Miami teammates cited for harassing him in the NFL’s highly publicized investigation -- being back in the league with the Buffalo Bills.
"That is a situation for the past," Martin said during a conference call with reporters. "I don’t think about it. I try not to catch the headlines, positive or negative. I’m focused on what I can do for my career moving forward."
Martin was consistent with this theme throughout, beginning with when he was asked how he put the scandal behind him.
"You know, honestly I haven’t given it much thought," Martin said. "I’ve just been looking forward to each day. And now, getting here, I’m looking forward to being a member of the Panthers and to compete and play in this great game, and do whatever I can to help this team win."
You can’t blame Martin for wanting to avoid the subject that had such an impact on his early NFL career. You can’t blame him for not wanting to discuss the racial slurs he claimed were used against him, threats of rape to his sister and mother, and bullying that included talk that he was not "black enough."
He tried to put all that behind him after being traded to San Francisco last offseason. The reunion with his former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh lasted only a season, as Harbaugh left San Francisco to become the head coach at Michigan.
The 49ers waived Martin on Thursday after he had appeared in 15 games last season, starting nine at right tackle.
The Panthers were quick to claim Martin and his $1 million 2015 salary. That they pride themselves on having a strong locker room and have a need for depth and experience at tackle made Martin a relatively inexpensive investment.
"I’ve only heard good things about the organization," Martin said. "They’ve had success these past two years. There’s some things they want to do on the O-line, so it’s a good opportunity for me to get another crack and this thing."
Mike Remmers, who finished last season strong as the starting right tackle, is back. So is Nate Chandler, who was the starting right tackle before a late-season knee injury landed him on injured reserve.
Though most of Martin’s 32 career starts have been on the right side, he also can play on the left.
"I’m not sure where I’ll land," said Martin, who hasn’t spoken to his new position coach yet. "It’s a new opportunity, but I have confidence in myself on both sides."
One of the claims against Martin during the bullying scandal was that he wasn’t tough enough. He didn’t sound soft when asked if his goal was to become a starter at Carolina.
"If your goal isn’t to be the best every time you step on the field, then you have no business being in this business," Martin said. "So I’m looking forward to competing with these guys and show them what I can do."
Martin, 25, didn’t want to talk about the past, but he couldn’t talk enough about the opportunity to compete moving forward.
"At this point in my career I have to work on consistency," he said. "I have experience starting in this league so far. I’m still a young player. I’ve been lucky enough to be healthy so far.
"I’m looking forward to maximizing my potential as I continue to get better every day."
Boykin, who attended Butler High School in Charlotte, visited the Panthers a few weeks ago. He became a free agent after spending the past three seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
Boykin lost his spot as the third receiver at Green Bay this past season, catching only three passes for 23 yards. In 2013, he had 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns.
Boykin is not known for his speed, but the former Virginia Tech standout has good size at 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds.
He originally signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 as an undrafted free agent. After only a few days on the roster, he was cut and picked up by Green Bay.
The signing of Boykin came hours after it was announced that free agent cornerback Alan Ball had signed with the Chicago Bears. Ball visited with the Panthers last Friday and, according to multiple sources, had agreed in principle to terms.
Quarterback Joe Webb was a factor.
In Webb, the Panthers had somebody who could play quarterback, wide receiver and special teams. To make room for Hill on the 53-man roster a player would have to be cut, and Webb was considered too valuable.
The Panthers made that clear during the offseason by re-signing Webb to another one-year deal.
But Hill’s time on the practice squad wasn’t wasted. He improved to the point that coach Ron Rivera believes the New York Jets’ 2012 second-round pick is ready to be a factor in 2015.
“Very much so," Rivera said Wednesday during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. “He’s a guy we feel has an opportunity. We’re very excited about [seeing] Stephen during OTAs and minicamp.
“With his size [6-4, 215] and speed and his ability to get vertical, if he can assimilate to what we do -- and I think he will; he seems to be a very smart man -- he might be a guy that has an opportunity to contribute for us."
Hill is so close that Rivera doesn’t feel the sense of urgency to draft a speed receiver. That doesn’t mean the Panthers won’t take one in the first couple of rounds if a receiver is the best player available.
But, as Rivera said, the presence of Hill lessens that sense of urgency.
“It takes pressure off us, most certainly," Rivera said. “The big thing, we have a guy that potentially can contribute, and in a big way. And at the end of the day, you can sit back and say he was a second-round pick."
The Jets had high expectations for Hill. But between his lack of production and a history of drops, he never fulfilled them. He was cut at the end of training camp last season, and the Panthers were quick to stash him on their practice squad.
“I thought it was a good opportunity to take a step back and take a break," Rivera said. “The thing I liked about Stephen was how he contributed to our football team’s success. He came in. He had been a second-round pick. He had no assumptions, no entitlement.
“He ran all the scout teams for us. He ran them hard. Gave us great looks, which is what makes us excited, 'cause you watch a guy perform who could very easily dog it, and he didn’t. And you saw him grow. You saw him make catches. You saw him get comfortable in his own skin again."
The Panthers signed free agent Ted Ginn Jr. to fill the need of a speed receiver to play opposite 2014 first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. Ginn also was brought in to fill a big need as a kick returner.
Carolina also has a speed receiver in Philly Brown, an undrafted player out of Ohio State who played well at times last season.
Athletically, Hill has the tools to be better than both.
“We saw him begin to get comfortable," Rivera said. “There was no pressure on him for a season, so he relaxed and [was] really showing that he is capable."
Because the roster isn’t set, Hill now has a chance to win a spot on his own merit.
“The hard part about giving other guys opportunities is you’re going to eliminate somebody that you don’t want to," Rivera said. “That was our situation [last year]. We didn’t want to cut a guy to have to activate a guy and potentially lose him."
"I don't," Rivera said Wednesday during the NFC coaches breakfast at the NFL owners meeting. "Our quarterback is a smart, savvy, young man. He understands the dynamics of the game. He's the kind of guy who is able to focus on certain aspects of the game and put things aside."
Rivera described negotiations between Newton and the Panthers as a "work in progress." He's also confident that general manager Dave Gettleman and Newton's representatives will get "something positive done."
A deal likely won't happen until after Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson signs to set the new market for franchise quarterbacks. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said those negotiations are progressing, but there's no timetable for finalizing a deal.
It's hard to imagine Newton's deal getting done before the summer.
Rivera said personally he'd like to see Newton's deal done before the season.
"Personally, yeah, I would," Rivera said. "But they have a time table, both sides do I imagine. Both sides have a plan. Hopefully, we get everything worked out together."
Meanwhile, Rivera is excited to see Newton in upcoming offseason workouts after the first pick of the 2011 draft missed organized team activities last year after undergoing ankle surgery.
While Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly are expected to complete their credits for graduation -- Newton from Auburn and Kuechly from Boston College -- this semester, Rivera expects both to participate in OTAs.
PHOENIX – Carolina Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman tucked a dip of snuff inside his lower lip on Tuesday and began something that takes place only a few times a year.
It’s not that Gettleman doesn’t like talking to reporters. He just doesn’t like sharing his trade secrets. But when he talks he’s about as engaging and entertaining as there is.
Here are highlights from that interview during a lunch break at the NFL owners meeting:
Greg Hardy: Gettleman wouldn’t discuss why the Panthers didn’t try to re-sign defensive end Greg Hardy, who last week became a member of the Dallas Cowboys. But he did talk about 2014 second-round draft pick Kony Ealy, who could make Carolina fans forget Hardy. “Kony came a long way,’’ Gettleman said. “At the end of the year he was making big plays. He put his big boy pants on. He made three plays at the end of the Seattle [playoff loss) that were really big time.’’ I asked Gettleman if he drafted Ealy with the anticipation he could replace Hardy in 2015 regardless of Hardy’s legal issues, understanding Hardy would be a free agent this year. He didn’t answer, but reminded the Panthers had a first-round grade on Ealy.
Free agency: The Panthers aren’t done. Gettleman said Carolina remains in the running for wide receiver Greg Jennings and cornerback Alan Ball. Both were in Charlotte last weekend but left without signing contracts because they’re exploring options. Jennings is drawing interest from Miami and Jacksonville, and Green Bay hasn’t ruled out bringing back the player that spent his first seven seasons with the Packers. Ball has drawn interest from at least one other team. Gettleman said both not only are the types of players you want on the field, but in the locker room. My guess is the Panthers will sign at least one of them as they remain $9.2 million under the salary cap.
The locker room: Gettleman is big on filling his roster with character players. Had the locker room not been solid last season when the Panthers were 3-8-1 he said the Panthers probably would have “finished 3-12-1.” Instead, they won their final four regular-season games and a playoff game.
Left tackle: Gettleman left no doubt that Michael Oher was signed to play left tackle. He believes reuniting Oher with offensive line coach John Matsko will resurrect Oher’s career. Oher worked with Matsko at Baltimore when he anchored the left side of the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl team. Gettleman said Oher has a trust in Matsko like few other position coaches. He said the reason Oher was given a two-year deal was to make sure the subject of the 2009 movie “The Blind Side’’ was on the roster at a manageable price in 2016 in case he “hit it out of the park’’ in 2015.
Thomas Davis: Gettleman wouldn’t say if outside linebacker Davis, 32, would be next to get a contract extension. But he made it clear the NFL’s 2015 Man of the Year Award winner is a special player and a core player. He also made it clear he believes age isn’t a factor for the first NFL player to successfully return ACL surgery on the same knee (right) three times. I’d look for something to get done here. Davis is set to count $9.9 million against the salary cap and extension could lower that number.
More contracts: Gettleman noted that by re-signing key players to two-year deals and signing free agents to deals of the same length the Panthers are in better shape to sign linebacker Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton to long-term deals. There is more of a sense of urgency to get something done with Newton. Gettleman said the team will exercise the fifth-year option on Kuechly, tying him up through 2016. Newton is in the fifth-year option of his rookie deal. Gettleman used the term “cost certainty’’ when talking about whether a long-term deal with Newton would get done before the end of this season. The only way the Panthers can be completely sure of long-term cost certainty with Newton is to get a deal done.
The roster: Gettleman didn’t hesitate to say the roster is better now than it was at the end of the 2015 season. I concur. The addition of Oher has to be an improvement over Byron Bell, and Ted Ginn Jr. gives the team a speed wide receiver and reliable kick returner. Other upgrades on special teams figure into this as well.
Quotable: Gettleman was at his best when talking about Kuechly. “Some guys are myths. He ain’t.’’
Jennings visited with the Panthers on Saturday in Charlotte. He reportedly has a "tentative" meeting set up with the Miami Dolphins during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix.
Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell told reporters on Monday at the owners meeting that the Jaguars had an interest in the 31-year old receiver, but hadn't set up a visit.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson hasn't ruled out Jennings returning to the Packers, where he played his first seven seasons (2006-2012) before going to Minnesota for two seasons.
Jennings is considered a valuable commodity as a receiver and for his locker room presence. At Carolina he would have an opportunity to compete for the No. 2 receiver spot opposite Kelvin Benjamin, last year's first-round draft pick.
The Panthers still likely would draft a speed wide receiver to develop opposite Benjamin.
Majority owner: Jerry Richardson, 78
Minority owners: Rosalind R. Richardson, Mark Richardson, Ashley Richardson Allen, M.C. Belk Pilon, Tim Belk, H.C. Bissell, Erskine Bowles, Derick S. Close, Elliott S. Close, Cameron M. Harris, John W. Harris, Leon Levine, Jerry Wordsworth, Steve Wordsworth
Source of wealth: Opened first Hardee's franchise in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with bonus check he received from the 1959 NFL championship. Built that into Spartan Foods and later Flagstar, which became the sixth-largest food service company in the nation. This included every Denny’s franchise in the country.
Net worth: $1.1 billion (Forbes)
Residence: Charlotte, North Carolina
Marital status: Married
Family: Wife Rosalind; sons Mark and Jon (deceased); daughter Ashley
Education: Wofford College
When purchased team and for how much? 1993 for $206 million
Franchise valuation: $1.25 billion (Forbes)
2014 revenue/rank: $283 million/15th (Forbes)
Owns stadium (how much invested): Yes (original cost was approximately $187 million)
Ownership philosophy: Try to hire the best people and give them the resources to succeed.
Defining moment in ownership tenure: Earning a trip to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Regular/postseason wins-losses during tenure: 151-168-1/7-6
General managers during tenure: Bill Polian (1995-97), Marty Hurney (1998-2012), Dave Gettleman (2013-present).
Coaches during tenure: Dom Capers (1995-98), George Seifert (1999-2001), John Fox (2002-10), Ron Rivera (2011-present).
Playoff appearances: 1996, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2013, 2014
Super Bowl appearances/championships: Lost to Patriots 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII (2003 season).
NFL committees: Compensation
Most significant signing: This has to be left tackle Michael Oher, who was released by Tennessee before the beginning of free agency. Oher has struggled the past few seasons between the Titans and Baltimore Ravens. The Panthers believe reuniting him with offensive line coach John Matsko, who was his position coach in Baltimore when Oher had his most productive years at left tackle, will resurrect his career. Adding Oher early enabled the Panthers to go into free agency without having to reach for a left tackle in a market with few choices. Having him on the roster also gives Carolina the freedom to take a tackle in the first or second round of the draft without the sense of urgency to plug that player in immediately as a starter.
Most significant loss: You’d have to say defensive end Greg Hardy, although the Panthers never seriously considered re-signing their 2013 sack leader who remains on the commissioner’s exempt list. There’s no doubt Hardy would have made the defense better, but the Panthers weren’t willing to risk big money on a player who cost them $13.1 million last season to play only one game while his domestic violence case was in limbo. Otherwise, the Panthers didn’t lose anybody of significance.
Biggest surprise: No big surprise. The Panthers weren’t expected to shop for big-name free agents. The plan all along was to re-sign a few key players such as tight end Ed Dickson and defensive tackles Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole, then fill key positions. That they got a three-year extension with Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen done early and haven’t renegotiated the contract of defensive end Charles Johnson, set to count $20 million against the cap in 2015, might be the biggest surprise.
What’s next? Filling in gaps. General manager Dave Gettleman has been most active in free agency the past two years in the second phase. He began that phase Monday by signing former Chiefs safety Kurt Coleman, who also could be a key special-teams contributor, to a two-year deal. The Panthers also might add a veteran cornerback. Former Bears corner Charles Tillman could fit that mold. Ron Rivera loved him when he coached in Chicago, and the Panthers still would like to move Bene Benwikere back to nickel corner. He was forced to move to the every-down corner as a rookie last season.
Soon to be 32 years old, "a LOT" is relative.
But the Panthers didn’t release their all-time leading rusher on Tuesday because they didn’t think he could contribute in 2015. They released him to save $2 million in salary-cap space, and because he has reached an age when productivity for running backs typically takes a serious drop.
They released him because it was hard to justify spending $6.3 million in 2015 on a backup to Jonathan Stewart, who will count $8.3 million against the salary cap.
They released him because the draft is deep in running backs, and there wouldn’t be enough caries to develop that player (if selected) between Stewart, Williams, and Fozzy Whittaker.
Williams won’t have to carry the load at Pittsburgh. He’ll be the No. 2 back behind Le'Veon Bell, with the opportunity to start two to four games if Bell is suspended as expected after his arrest with former teammate LeGarrette Blount on Aug. 20 of 2014 for marijuana possession and DUI charges.
There is some irony that Williams landed in Pittsburgh. He left Carolina expressing hard feelings toward team owner Jerry Richardson for not reaching out to him when his mom died of breast cancer in May.
He is going to a team run by Dan Rooney, one of Richardson’s closest friends in the league.
Williams likely won’t have to wait long to face the only team for which he’s played. The Panthers and Steelers have met in the preseason finale every year since 2003, and there is no reason to think that will change.
Carolina signed former Chicago Bears special teams player Teddy Williams on Thursday to a two-year deal that could max out at $2.3 million.
The deal included a $220,000 signing bonus, a $20,000 workout bonus for 2015 and $40,000 for 2016, a league source said.
Panthers fans might remember Williams as the gunner that blew up punt returner Philly Brown during an Oct. 5 game against the Chicago Bears. Brown fumbled, recovered his fumble and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown.
Williams, 26, is with his sixth team since entering the NFL in 2010 as an undrafted rookie with the Dallas Cowboys. He did not play football in college, attending the University of Texas-San Antonio as a sprinter.
His agent, David Canter, tweeted the official signing.
Boom it's official. Teddy Williams is a Panther pic.twitter.com/dTQDXh5jxq— DEC Management (@davidcanter) March 12, 2015
Williams also plays cornerback, but was signed primarily as a special-teams player.
General manager Dave Gettleman said the Panthers were going to sign players specific to special teams after Carolina finished near the bottom of the league in several key categories.
Carolina re-assigned special teams coach Richard Rodgers after the season and promoted Bruce DeHaven into that role.
Set to be 32 this season, Williams could be a good backup for Le'Veon Bell, who is expected to face a two-game suspension by the NFL as a result of his August arrest on marijuana and DUI charges.
Although injuries limited him to six games last season, Williams still could provide adequate relief. At issue with Carolina was his $6.3 million cap number to go with Jonathan Stewart's $8.3 million cap hit.
Williams hasn’t spoken to reporters since he told a local television station last month the Panthers planned to release him. Stewart, who will assume the lead running back role for Carolina, said his goodbye to Williams via Twitter.
By waiting until the start of the NFL's new year that began at 4 p.m. ET and designating Williams a post-June 1 cut, the Panthers will save approximately $2 million under the 2015 salary cap.
"I really enjoyed watching DeAngelo grow over the past four years and wish him nothing but the best moving forward."
This was merely a formality. Williams, 31, recently told Charlotte television station WBTV in an exclusive interview that Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman informed him of their decision to release him prior to the NFL combine.
The Panthers plan to move forward with Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker and likely a draft pick at running back.
Stewart emerged as the team's leading rusher when Williams missed the final four regular-season games with a broken hand. Stewart finished the season with 809 yards during the regular season and another 193 yards in two playoff games.
Injuries limited Williams to six games in 2014.
There was no comment from Williams in the release. He said in his WBTV interview that would be his only statement on the matter. He said he wasn't bitter, but expressed disappointment that team owner Jerry Richardson didn't reach out to him when his mother died of breast cancer in May.
Williams led the NFL's breast cancer awareness movement when he learned a few years ago that his mother had the disease. He said the only member of the team to attend his mother's funeral was defensive end Greg Hardy, who was facing domestic violence charges at the time.
It was since revealed that fullback Mike Tolbert also attended.
"There was a couple of things that upset me about the Panthers when my mom died," Williams told WBTV. "Nobody came to the funeral. The owner didn't reach out. He didn't say anything."
Williams has been with the Panthers since they made him the 27th overall pick of the 2006 draft. He has 6,846 career yards rushing and 46 rushing touchdowns, both team records.
Williams' career 4.78-yards per carry average ranks second in team history and is 15th in NFL history among players with a minimum of 750 attempts.
"We are very appreciative of the hard work and effort that DeAngelo brought to Bank of America Stadium every day," general manager Dave Gettleman said in the release. "Last year was extremely difficult for him, but he finished the season like a pro and I will always respect him for that.”
This time he did it with Newton healthier than he has been in several offseasons, which shows how much management came to like the quarterback/wide receiver.
"Joe gives us continuity at the quarterback position," coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. "He is also a very versatile player. Not only has he played quarterback, but he has played wide receiver and on special teams, and gives us some depth there because of his athleticism and intelligence.
"We are very excited for him to continue to be part of what we’re trying to build here."
Webb will be the third quarterback behind Newton and Derek Anderson, who is entering the last year of his deal with Carolina. He cited the family atmosphere as important in his decision to re-sign.
"I didn’t know if I could get that somewhere else," Webb said.
Webb didn’t take a snap at quarterback during the regular season. He played in seven games as a wide receiver and on special teams. He had one catch for 16 yards and one tackle.
He is the second of Carolina’s 11 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents to re-sign. Defensive tackle Colin Cole re-signed last week.
The Panthers also are interested in re-signing tight end Ed Dickson. A league source said Dickson has drawn interest from a handful of teams. Dickson said after the season his preference was to return to Charlotte.
Oher also can earn $150,000 in workout bonuses.
The Panthers have a bargain if the former first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens works out at left tackle. The top 10 left tackles in the NFL last season were paid between $8.5 million and $12.2 million.
Oher, 28, recently was released by the Tennessee Titans, where he started 11 games this past season at right tackle before going on injured reserve with a toe injury. He struggled prior to the injury, allowing six sacks and 26 quarterback hurries.
The subject of the 2009 movie "The Blind Side," Oher told Panthers.com on Friday he is completely healthy. He is expected to compete for the left tackle job, open after Carolina opted not to re-sign Byron Bell.
Oher was his most productive while with the Ravens under offensive line coach John Matsko, now the line coach at Carolina. The 23rd pick of the 2009 draft, Oher started at left tackle in 2012 when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker signed a two-year deal. Wide receiver Brenton Bersin, offensive lineman Brian Folkerts and linebacker Ben Jacobs each signed one-year deals.
Whittaker rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown on 32 attempts this past season. He currently would fall in at No. 2 on the depth chart behind Jonathan Stewart.
Bersin played in 15 games this past season, catching 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown. He also returned 14 punts for 86 yards and seven kickoffs for 167 yards.
He will be replaced in the return game by wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., who reached an agreement with the Panthers on Monday, according to league sources.
Folkerts is a reserve center and guard. Jacobs led Carolina with nine special teams tackles this past season.