Cam Newton has commercials and national magazine covers.
Ryan Kalil has the moxie to take out a Super Bowl ad.
But Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has the $76 million contract and the weight of expectations that goes with the richest deal ever received by a Panther.
In the wake of the Newtons record-breaking rookie season, the Panthers decided to build around the quarterback with a rifle of a right arm and smile the corporate sponsors love.
They re-signed veteran receiver Steve Smith to an extension in the offseason, added free agent fullback Mike Tolbert and locked up running back Jonathan Stewart with a long-term deal last week to team with DeAngelo Williams.
But the defense referred to as the teams, stepchild, last week by rookie cornerback Josh Norman will likely determine whether the Panthers are a playoff contender in coach Ron Riveras second season.
And Johnson, dubbed, Big Money, after signing his six-year deal last summer, will play as big a role as anyone.
Johnsons production slipped last year as he battled a back injury the latter part of the season. During the first week of training camp this year, Rivera said Johnson had to, do more.
Johnson has answered the call since Riveras public challenge. In Fridays exhibition win against Miami, Johnson had a sack, a pressure and a pass deflection.
The normally laid-back Johnsons voice rises and his eyes widen at the suggestion that success and money have spoiled him. Hes read remarks to that effect on Twitter and even on the teams official site under the comments section.
I get that all the time, Johnson said last week at Wofford. One thing I do like reading is people that question my ability or question this or why did he get his contract? I like hearing that type of stuff because they dont know me. They dont know I put in work. But its all good. Youve got to be doing something right for people to talk about you.
This year Johnson wants people talking about what he did, rather than what he didnt do.
Paying the pass-rushers
The players and the owners had just reached a new labor agreement last July when Rivera, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and other team officials flew to Johnsons house in Miami with an offer.
The Panthers had lost Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers to free agency the previous year. They viewed Johnson coming off an 11.5-sack season in his first year as a starter as critical to their future.
Mirroring the trend that brought rising salaries and increased emphasis to the left offensive tackle position in the mid-1990s, pass-rushing defensive ends are the latest group to cash in on the NFLs move to a pass-driven league.
Peppers received a six-year, $91 million deal from the Bears after the 2009 season. Buffalo topped that with the six-year, $100 million contract to Mario Williams this past offseason.
Minnesotas Jared Allen, whose 22 sacks in 2011 led the league, is entering the fifth year of a six-year deal worth $73 million.
Most of the leagues top-tier ends are pure rushers who have a variety of moves to get to the quarterback. Johnson, 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, relies more on bull rushes to power his way past offensive tackles.
Johnsons strength and relatively low center of gravity Allen, Peppers and Williams are all 6-foot-6 or taller also make him an effective run-stopper. But Johnson collected only 39 tackles last year a nearly 50 percent drop-off from his 2011 total.
Panthers defensive line coach Eric Washington said Johnsons numbers would have been better had he not been hobbled with a back injury the last three weeks of the season. Johnson had one tackle combined in wins against Houston and Tampa Bay, and was inactive for the final game at New Orleans.
It really took away a lot of his explosiveness, Washington said. He tried to battle through it, especially the last Tampa game (in Week 16). But he just couldnt go. He really attained the production that he did probably in 13 games.
It was the first of two injuries Johnson would sustain in a five-month stretch.
Johnson developed swelling on his right knee during the offseason conditioning drills, and underwent arthroscopic surgery in May to clean out the knee. He missed organized team activities and minicamp, and still is not quite 100 percent.
Its starting to get back. Its probably a good 90 percent right now. Its starting to come along real good, and Im starting to get my groove back, Johnson said. Just going to keep working and keep trying to get better and go into the season full speed.
Rivera likes what hes seen from Johnson the past two weeks.
Charles has been outstanding, Rivera said. You watch what Charles did this offseason, working out hard. The knee got sore and he had to have surgery. Hes starting to round into shape.
Following minicamp, Johnson returned to his hometown of Hawkinsville, Ga., to hold his first youth football camp. Johnson said returning to Hawkinsville a city of 4,600 people about 125 miles south of Atlanta helps keep him grounded.
People where Im from know everybody. So they treat a lot of people with respect. Youve got to earn respect in order to get it. So in my hometown people dont really live for the fame, or live for this, live for that, Johnson said.
Weve probably got 4,000 in our community, something like that. But like I say, when I go home I feel good and I humble myself because I see how theyre living and I see how Im living.
Johnson, 26, a third-round pick from Georgia in 2007, built his mother, Jackie Kearney, a home in Hawkinsville after he signed his new contract. Kearney, a single mother, worked at a nursing home in for 26 years before health issues forced her to retire five years ago.
She and her younger son, Dominique, 13, have enjoyed the house Johnson bought for them on a big plot of land outside of town. Kearney is not sure of the exact acreage.
Its big, she said. I get tired walking around it.
In addition to his mothers house, Johnson bought a Lamborghini after signing his contract. He also has a custom 1969 Chevy Impala.
Aside from his cars, however, Johnson said he has not given in to extravagance.
He lives in the same house, down the street from the Panthers practice fields, that he bought after signing his rookie deal five years ago. His iPhone has a cracked screen, and he went to a Big and Tall store last week for the plain, blue blazer he wore to the Panthers kickoff luncheon at the Civic Center.
When he was introduced at the event, Johnson walked across the stage with little fanfare, barely lifting his head to acknowledge the crowds applause.
An icon and entertainer Johnson is not.
Im always going to be the same person. Its just my pockets are a little bit fatter, Johnson said. I try to keep myself humble. Its just where Im from. When I get home, I see how they are and that makes me humble. I dont ever want to outreach myself or be above myself or live above my means.
Panthers defensive tackle Frank Kearse, who is close with Johnson, said there is no pretense in Johnson.
I dont think that contract changed his mood or personality or anything, Kearse said. He worked hard before he got it, and hes still working hard today.
Big Money looking for big things
Rivera, a Chicago Bears linebacker for nine years and longtime defensive assistant, said Johnson was playing well last season before his back injury. But Rivera thinks he can play better.
I think hes doing the things we need him to do for us, Rivera said. Now, do we want more productivity? Absolutely. We want the type of production he started with.
Rivera said its imperative for third-year defensive end Greg Hardy or another pass-rusher to emerge so teams cannot tilt their protection to Johnsons side. Washington, the defensive line coach, said Riveras challenge to Johnson was no different than how coaches prod other players.
But because it was Johnson, more people took notice.
He can do more, and hell be the first one to admit that. Hes challenging himself. Our job is to challenge him, as well as the other guys in the position group. And hes embracing that, Washington said. Hes trying to expand his arsenal so he can have a better way of getting to the quarterback. Im excited about what hell do.
Johnson wants to finish in double digits in sacks this season. The Panthers hope Johnsons first-half performance against the Dolphins is a preview of whats to come.
Early in the game, he came free on an inside stunt and belted rookie Ryan Tannehill as he released the ball. Later, he dipped his shoulder and powered through a block to sack Tannehill, and capped his night by getting his hand on a Tannehill pass at the line of scrimmage.
Kearse believes Johnson is poised for a big season, and dismissed critics who question Johnsons heart.
Whoever says that, I dont know what theyre watching. But they cant be watching Charles Johnson, said Kearse, another Georgia native. This guy comes to work every day with the mind frame to get better.
Johnson is happy to avoid the spotlight that shines on Newton, Smith and the Panthers high-profile offense. He is not the type to give a rousing locker room speech, deferring to linebacker Jon Beason and other more vocal teammates.
I guess he took that from me, said Kearney, who described her family as, quiet and just down-to-earth people.
Johnson is not crazy about his, Big Money, nickname, inspired by his comment after signing his deal that, big money, brings big expectations.
I dont like that, he said. People always call me that, though.
Johnson believes the name implies he is driven solely by dollars. He seeks to prove that is not the case.
Ive just been stepping my game up. Thats all Ive been doing, trying to go out and practice and get better, Johnson said. Thats all I can do.