Panthers’ Godfrey returns from injury with new position, less money

Charles Godfrey has three career sacks and 11 career interceptions, but played in only two games last season.

CHARLOTTE — It’s not often that a professional football player is asked to switch positions going into his eighth year, while at the same time taking an 85 percent pay cut, and then think it’s a good idea. 

Welcome to the world of Charles Godfrey of the Carolina Panthers.

Godfrey has started 74 games at safety for the Panthers, who drafted him in 2008. But within the last few weeks, Carolina management asked him to move to the nickel position and to take a measly pay cut from a $5-million base to $750,000-base.

Godfrey said at first that he couldn’t believe what he was hearing when general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Ron Rivera approached him with their thoughts.

"(They) called me into the office and sat me down and they said they had some good news for me," said Godfrey, 28. "They said, ‘We’re thinking about moving you to corner.’ At first it was a shock, but I looked at it as an honor because it really doesn’t happen that way. Usually you go from corner to safety, not safety to corner."

Godfrey’s right. There have been some very famous cornerbacks that have finished their careers at safety, such as Champ Bailey, Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott, just to name a few.

But other than believing Godfrey could manage the switch, there are other reasons why he was approached about the move and, more importantly, the pay cut.

Godfrey is coming off a torn Achilles tendon, which made him miss all but two games in 2013. He was also going to count $7.1 million against the cap this season thanks to the five-year, $27.5 million contract extension he signed in 2011, when then general manager Marty Hurney was in a spending spree.

With the pay cut, Godfrey will now count just $3.06 million against the cap.

Even with the injury and massive decrease in salary, Godfrey still sees the silver lining.

"I looked at as they believe in me," said Godfrey. "I also believe in myself, too. I know I can do it. Even before I got injured, I looked out there and thought whatever corners can do, I can do. I’m just a little more physical. I’m not afraid to go out there any hit anybody."

When Gettleman and Rivera approached him about the move, Godfrey could have said no. Doing so would have forced the Panthers to make a big decision: cut him and have to pay him $5 million immediately in dead money, or keep him at the extremely high price.

But Godfrey didn’t. He agreed to the move and pay cut, though it’s not like he did it haphazardly.

"When they first came to me, it was something that they gave me time and said, ‘We don’t want you to make a decision now, but it’s a move we’re thinking about making that’ll be good for the defense and for you, as well,’ " said Godfrey. "They said with my skills and my ability to do that, we think it’d be good for the team. So, I went home for the weekend and I actually thought about it and actually talked to a couple of people and I came up with the conclusion that I think it’d be good for me with our system."

It’s not as though Godfrey has never played cornerback. He has, but it was a long time ago when he was playing in college for Iowa. During his career as a Hawkeye, Godfrey started 28 games, with 25 coming at cornerback.

Godfrey has the speed and size for it. During the NFL Combine in 2008, he ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash. He may have lost a little speed since, but the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder can still move with the best of them. And he says the injury is basically healed.

"I’m doing well," he said. "Right now in OTA’s, I’m taking it slow. I’d doing all the position drills and I’m with corners and doing everything with them. I’m moving great. There’s no holding me back on that. But as far as the team with 7-on-7, I’m kind of staying away from all that. I don’t think I’ll be participating in that until (training) camp comes around."

While he’s using OTA’s to get his mobility completely back, he’s also using it to try and get into a new frame of mind. There’s a big difference between playing the two positions. He’s no longer a headhunter, rather someone who is rejuvenated and ready for the challenge.

"I’ve had a year to get my body right," he said. "I’ve had a year’s worth of massages and no banging, so I’m refreshed now. I feel like I’ve got a little jump on some people that’s been playing as long as I’ve been playing, but haven’t had that year off to get their body right and to get those muscles back right and get all them bones back to feeling good.

"But it’s a different mentality. It’s not always now about trying to knock somebody’s head off. For me, the only thing I’m worried about are those receivers in front of me not catching the ball. … I have guys up front that hunt (the quarterback) and the ball is going to be (thrown) quick, so that’s the good thing about it and I’ll be able to make plays."

That’s all well and good, but the fact remains his base salary is still 15 percent of what it used to be, though he can make $1.7 million in per-game bonuses.

"I understand that I had an injury, but at the same time, I know me and I know I’m going to come back and be 100 percent," said Godfrey. "I saw what I did for the Panthers at safety with the work ethic and mentality that I had, and I don’t see myself not being able to do that at corner. I’ve done it once, so I can do it again.

"The money that I lost, I’ll make that back either with the Panthers or with somebody else. So, it’s not really about that. The move was for the defense and for the team and trying to help us out. At the end of the day, I’m happy right now. I’m happy that I’m back on the field. I’m happy that I’m back on the defense. I’m happy that I’m actually back with the team. So, it worked out for both sides."