TE Jeremy Shockey (Geoff Burke/Getty_
The Panthers have their tight end. They said they wanted to upgrade at tight end and they've done just that, agreeing to a one-year contract with free agent Jeremy Shockey, a league source confirmed.
The details of the contract were not immediately available, but the move came just hours before an expected NFL lockout.
On his Facebook page, Shockey wrote: "Looks like I'm signing with Carolina. Time for the Next chapter. This is a great opportunity for me, and I am excited to play football. Lets hope we all have the chance to play this season."
The signing gives the Panthers a top-flight receiving tight end they've not had since the days of Wesley Walls and likely means one of the three tight ends they have on the roster -- Jeff King, Dante Rosario or Gary Barnidge -- will not be back next season. King and Rosario were tendered as restricted free agents but could wind up being unrestricted free agents anyway. Barnidge is under contract.
Shockey, 30, will be entering his 10th season in the NFL and there are some questions about his health as he's missed 14 games in the last four seasons due to injury. Shockey spent his first six seasons in the league with New York Giants prior to joining the Saints in 2008 and helping them win the Super Bowl in 2009. He previously won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants, although he was at with the team at that point and didn't play in that game.
He's been named All-Pro once and been to the Pro Bowl four times. His best season came in 2006 when he caught 66 passes for 623 yards and seven touchdowns for the Giants.
Shockey had 41 receptions for 408 yards and three touchdowns in 11 starts last season for the Saints but was released last week.
HOT TOPIC: Many directions possible with first pick
The Panthers are in control of the NFL draft with the first overall pick following a 2-14 season.
That we know.
What they'll do with that pick remains a mystery.
The Panthers have a number of needs, most notably at quarterback, defensive tackle and cornerback, and there are several top players coming out this year who would help. The problem is figuring out who'll they'll draft or if they will field any phone calls to move down.
Coach Ron Rivera has already said landing a franchise quarterback is the team's most pressing need, but the question becomes if Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are worthy of first-pick consideration.
QB Cam Newton
Had Andrew Luck remained in school he'd have been the No. 1 pick, but he spurned the Panthers and stayed at Stanford.
If there's a favorite for the No. 1 pick, it's probably Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who may be the top defensive player in the draft. Carolina had to start role players Derek Landri and Nick Hayden last year and is desperate for a dominant defensive tackle like Fairley to free up middle linebacker Jon Beason to make more plays.
But don't rule out the team taking Louisiana State cornerback Patrick Peterson or even Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, especially if the lockout ends before the NFL draft and the Panthers decide to move wide receiver Steve Smith.
The wild cards in all of this are Newton and Gabbert. Both are viewed as a stretch at No. 1, but if the Panthers think either can be a franchise quarterback they could go that way.
INSIDE THE WAR ROOM
The Panthers are considering about eight players for the No. 1 pick and among those likely on that list are quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, wide receiver A.J. Green, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, and cornerback Patrick Peterson. The Panthers don't have the first pick in the second round after trading it away to New England.
--Prior to being hired by the Panthers, coach Ron Rivera had the foresight to realize the lockout could be a potential problem for a staff installing a new scheme.
So he had formulated ideas on how to combat that as best he could.
"It wasn't as much a lockout plan as it was, 'Hey, here are some different scenarios that we have to be able to adjust to,'" general manager Marty Hurney said of Rivera's preparation. "And I think that was the most impressive thing about Ron. It's that kind of thinking that you have to have as a head coach. You have to know that things are going to change every day, whether it's the collective bargaining agreement or losing somebody in free agency or not getting a player we wanted to get in the draft or whatever that might be. It's your ability to adjust and be flexible as far as your thinking. That is what was impressive in him bringing up this as a scenario. He talked about what we do if we can't start business as usual."
So what will the Panthers do in the event of a lockout?
Rivera wouldn't reveal his entire strategy, and to some extent, his hands are tied.
But it's likely the Panthers will distribute playbooks to players before the possible March 5 lockout so they can at least have a working knowledge of the new plays.
The team can't, under NFL rules, conduct any practices or even contact players during a lockout. Not a phone call. Not an email. Not a FedEx package.
Rivera and his staff have already met with most players under contract about what they expect from them during the offseason in terms of expectations.
He plans to borrow a page from the Washington Redskins, who won the Super Bowl in both previous strike-shortened seasons in the NFL in 1982 and 1987.
"When you do your calendar as a coach -- and I have calendars from each head coach I've worked with -- they are all predicated on business as usual," Rivera said. "In light of the possibility that there could be a lockout, we as coaches have to be prepared to help the players so that when they come back it's going to be a seamless transition to the season.
"When you talked to guys that were a part of those Redskin teams they will tell you, 'We stayed together. We got together and we did things together.' It's important as we get closer to that deadline that we communicate to our guys the importance of being prepared for it and how to handle it."
--The Panthers tendered contracts to 14 restricted free agents including running back DeAngelo Williams and defensive end Charles Johnson Wednesday night, although there's a good chance those tenders might not apply under a new collective bargaining agreement.
Williams has five years of NFL experience and Johnson four, so both could be unrestricted free agents anyway and the tags might not apply if the next CBA reverts to the form prior to 2010 season.
Among the others tendered were quarterback Matt Moore, tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario, wide receiver David Clowney, defensive tackle Derek Landri, linebackers James Anderson and Jordan Senn, cornerbacks Richard Marshall and C.J. Wilson, safety Marcus Hudson, kicker Rhys Lloyd and long snapper J.J. Jansen.
With Carolina's restricted free agents, the Panthers' tender offer ensures a right-of-first-refusal for these players, plus the potential for draft-choice compensation in some cases should the players sign elsewhere. In most cases, a restricted free agent is tendered what is called an original tender. This ensures the right-of-first-refusal plus draft-pick compensation, but only if the player was originally drafted when he entered the league.
In Williams' case, he received the first- and third-round tender.
Again, it may not mean a thing in the end.
--The Panthers did not tender deals to five players who could have been RFAs including safety Gerald Alexander, linebackers Jamar Williams and Abdul Hodge and offensive linemen Rob Petitti and Chris Morris.
--The Panthers also extended offers to six exclusive-rights free agents including quarterback Keith Null, wide receiver Charly Martin, defensive tackles Ed Johnson and Nick Hayden, guard C.J. Davis and linebacker Nic Harris.
Any player with an expiring contract but with less than three accrued seasons in the league is an exclusive-rights free agent under last year's rules. Carolina can retain the rights to these players simply by making a qualifying contract offer.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As you know, we have a league meeting and we decided it would be a good idea for our full committee to meet with this mediation process. And our objective, of course, is to negotiate a fair agreement for the players and the teams. So far, we obviously haven't been successful. But we're optimistic in due time we will be." -- What owner Jerry Richardson told reporters about the potential lockout Wednesday outside the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service offices in Washington, D.C.