ATLANTA – The Carolina Panthers plan to be “very aggressive” in free agency this year in an effort to improve a team that finished with a league-worst 2-14 record last season, owner Jerry Richardson said Thursday night at the NFL owners meetings.
That, Richardson said, includes not only signing his team’s own free agents but those from other teams.
“First we want to be very aggressive and (general manager) Marty Hurney and his team have a plan and when we get the green light we will be going wide open,” Richardson said. “We’re going to concentrate on our own (free agents) first.
“(But) we’re going to be aggressive. We are prepared to do what it takes to put the best team together as quickly as we can.”
The Panthers have several players whose contracts are up including running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Charles Johnson, linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson, quarterback Matt Moore, cornerback Richard Marshall and tight end Dante Rosario.
Whether or not things ever get to free agency remains up to the players and whether they decide to approve the new CBA, although there's no guarantee that will happen.
The players didn't vote on the new CBA last night and until they do everything remains status quo. If they do approve the deal, teams will be free to re-sign their own free agents and their draft picks Saturday and then sign unrestricted free agents from other teams on Wednesday.
Richardson also said the team doesn’t expect to have any trouble signing No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton.
Newton won’t make nearly as much as last year’s No. 1 pick Sam Bradford did under the new proposed CBA, but Richardson said money will be shuffled to proven veteran players.
“We want to pay the money to the proven veteran players,” Richardson said. “The rookies, 50 percent of them, don’t make it. And it’s more efficient to spend the money (on the veteran players). The money doesn’t flow through the owners, it flows through to the veteran players for redistribution.”
As for how things will work out with star receiver Steve Smith, Richardson said he doesn’t know because he’s not spoken with Smith during the lockout.
“I have no idea,” Richardson said. “I love Steve, but I will be honest with you, Steve has not been in the forefront of my mind.”
Richardson was one of four owners at the press conference Thursday night which announced a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement, albeit one that still has to be approved by the players.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and other owners praised Richardson for his hard work saying he did “an extraordinary job.”
“As a former player I think he understands the players’ perspectives and he listens well,” Goodell said. “We would not be here today without his leadership."
Added Giants owner John Mara: “He kept us in line. When some of us would start to disagree or want to go home, he kept us in line. Everybody on our committee respects him so much.”
Richardson, a heart transplant recipient, said the process that began back in May of 2008 has been “draining” on him.
He often called or fielded more than 35 phone calls a day from other owners and worked seven days a week, constantly updating them on negotiations. He almost always did that on a one-on-one basis rather than a conference call because that's his style. He views each owner as equally important.
“I can truthfully say a day didn’t pass that I haven’t thought about this with the exception of the time when I was thinking about something else and that was just making it to the next day,” Richardson said. “But I would literally think about it almost constantly and that is wearing. I don’t know when I will sleep again. I can’t remember when I haven’t looked over at my clock and seen 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. But it was very draining.”
He said he probably won’t sleep well until the players approve a deal, recertify as a union and report to training camp.
He said he can’t imagine the players not doing so.
“I think they have a real incentive,” Richardson said. “I can’t imagine why we’ve been negotiating so hard and they have received so many things that they thought were important. I can’t imagine why they would not (agree to the deal).”