Panthers aim to retain DeAngelo Williams
Even if the Carolina Panthers fail to reach agreement on a contract extension with tailback DeAngelo Williams before the current collective bargaining agreement expires — and the odds appear slim that a deal will be struck by the end of the week — sources from both sides told The Sports Xchange this weekend the club will be very active in attempting to retain the potential pending free agent.
Williams will be 28 in April, and is coming off a foot injury that limited him to six games and precipitated a career-worst season in 2010, but is still regarded by many as the top tailback available.
The free-agency status of the five-year veteran could be determined by a resolution of the CBA, or even in the courts, but Williams is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and figures to command considerable interest if he hits the market.
"It probably won't get done (by the CBA expiration) ... but they definitely want him back," agent Jimmy Sexton said. "I think there would be a lot of teams interested in him, but Carolina will be one of them."
A former Panthers coach, who has stayed close to Williams and is familiar with the thinking of the Carolina organization, was even stronger in his comments.
"They could invest a lot (of money) in him," the coach said. "He's a great player and a high-character guy ... and (general manager) Marty (Hurney) loves him. And I really do believe DeAngelo likes playing there. I'd be really surprised if they weren't very competitive in trying to keep him."
The Panthers entertained the notion the past few weeks of exercising a franchise designation on Williams. Last week, though, the team opted to use the franchise tag on center Ryan Kalil. Carolina did impose a restricted free agent tender on Williams, although the NFLPA is likely to fight the validity of such maneuvers.
There has been very little financial information exchanged by the two sides, Sexton confirmed, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of an eventual deal.
A source close to Williams said the player has strong initial impressions of new head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
The No. 27 overall choice in the 2006 draft, Williams, a former Memphis standout, was a part-time player early in his career, but moved into the starting lineup in '07. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2008 and 2009, but because of the foot injury last season registered only 87 carries, 361 yards, and one touchdown. All of those were career lows.
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The Sports Xchange reported two months ago that the foot injury was healing on schedule, and would not be a factor in free agency.
Williams earned $2.1 million in base salary in 2010, the final season of the original, five-year contract he signed as a rookie. But a number of technicalities, principally the so-called "30 percent rule," essentially precluded the Panthers from signing him then to an extension.
Carolina has an intriguing fallback in three-year veteran Jonathan Stewart, but the former first-rounder (2008) is also coming off an injury-marred year in '10 (Achilles tendinitis), and the Panthers prefer to keep the tandem together, if possible.
In 64 appearances, including 37 starts, Williams has rushed for 4,211 yards and 31 touchdowns on 841 carries. He is the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Williams also has 118 receptions, 922 yards, and four touchdowns.