The Panthers haven’t brought in a lot of name free agents this offseason, but everyone they’ve brought in is in Charlotte.
When the Panthers opened offseason conditioning work Monday, they had all 71 of the players they have under contract in attendance for the first four days of the voluntary sessions.
That’s the kind of commitment coach Ron Rivera hopes brings an improvement over last year’s 6-10 record.
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“Exciting,” Rivera said with a grin when asked about the turnout. “It was actually a lot of fun Monday, to see players come in. We had a little 10 am meeting to welcome them back, explain the rules, and they went to work.
“It’s just kind of neat to see. The commitment these guys are making, I think most our guys understand and are good about participating, in all the things we’re able to do this year that we weren’t last year. I can’t wait until we get a chance to start working with the guys when we get to phase two, so it’s exciting.”
Headlining the work has been quarterback Cam Newton, who was working out on his own with several teammates before the team sessions even began.
Newton was similarly involved last offseason, impressing his older teammates with his willingness to jump in during the player-organized lockout workouts.
Having that kind of leadership from the quarterback obviously helps, and Newton’s grip on the locker room continues to grow stronger.
Part of the camaraderie has to do with being a young team that enjoyed a little bounce last season. Getting to 6-10 after a 2-14 disaster the year before has a tendency to lift the mood.
But as significant is that the Panthers enter the year with no real pressing contractual issues. Even a brief stay-away statement by cornerback Richard Marshall two years ago was a mild protest, but the Panthers don’t have any of those sorts of issues at the moment.
The closest thing to a contract distraction they had was solved when wide receiver Steve Smith signed a cap-clearing extension, leaving second running back Jonathan Stewart as the most significant player entering a contract year.