Charles Johnson has plenty of reason to celebrate after cashing in on a big pay day Tuesday. (Photo by John Clark)
CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers put the full court press on Charles Johnson on Tuesday and it worked.
The Panthers convinced Johnson, their prized free agent defensive end, to agree to a whopping contract worth $72 million over six years including a $30 million signing bonus. Johnson said he plans to sign the deal on Friday.
“The Panthers told me the whole time they were going to come after me hard,” Johnson said. “I had to see it to believe, but they did.”
Johnson said he was “blown away” by Carolina’s offer and the money convinced him to choose Carolina over Atlanta and Denver, who also expressed interest.
“Could you have turned that down?” Johnson said with a laugh.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, coach Ron Rivera and several members of the defensive staff including coordinator Sean McDermott, defensive line coach Eric Washington and linebackers coach Warren Belin made the trip together to Miami on Tuesday in a private plane in hopes of convincing Johnson to stay.
“A lot of people in my family were rooting for me to sign with Atlanta because it was closer to home and they could come see me play,” Johnson said. “But I think they understand.”
Johnson had a breakout season for the Panthers last season with 11.5 sacks in his first year as a starter. He had a combined 10 sacks his previous two seasons playing behind starting veteran defensive ends Julius Peppers and Tyler Brayton.
Johnson said he was impressed by how important the Panthers made him feel by bringing a good portion of the coaching staff along.
“They showed so much respect for me, I wanted to show it back,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he met with Rivera Tuesday morning and came away excited.
“He was telling me about the defense and how they planned to use me and I was blown away by some of the things we’re going to do this year,” Johnson said.
Aside from the money, Johnson said his love of the Charlotte community played a role in his decision.
“Once you are settled in somewhere you get comfortable,” Johnson said. “Money aside, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to leave because I am tied into Charlotte.”
Johnson said the first thing he plans to do with some of the signing bonus is take care of his family, most of which still lives in Georgia and some of whom wanted him to sign with the Falcons.
He said the Falcons initially showed a lot of interest but backed off once they learned of Carolina’s offer.
Johnson can sign his contract Friday, but can’t join the Panthers at training camp until Aug. 4 under new league rules. Until then he will remain in Miami and continue to train.
“To say I’m thankful doesn’t begin to describe it,” Johnson said. “I’m so excited. I’m ready to get back to football.”
As for DeAngelo Williams it's unclear if he's staying or going.
Denver and Carolina are believed to be the two teams interested in signing him, but no news came out Tuesday. The Panthers didn't re-sign other free agents, although they made contact with linebackers James Anderson and Thomas Davis. Tight end Jeff King agreed to a three-year deal with Arizona.
In other news, the Panthers also agreed to terms on a one-year deal with safety Kevin Payne, according to a league source.
A former fifth-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears out of Louisiana-Monroe in 2007, Payne previously played under Ron Rivera for a season in Chicago. Payne recorded 88 tackles, four interceptions and seven pass deflections in his first season as a starter in Chicago but was traded to the Rams last year to make room for Chris Harris.