If the Panthers make any more moves in free agency, they can thank Jordan Gross for helping them do it.
The veteran left tackle and second-longest tenured Panther agreed to a restructured deal with the team this week that drops his salary cap figure by nearly $7 million.
Gross was set to make $8.7 million in 2013, but the franchise leader in starts agreed to drop his base salary to $1 million while earning a $4.5 million signing bonus on a contract extension through 2017.
The $6.8 million more in cap space gives the Panthers more than $7 million to spend on free agents and draft picks.
“I wanted to stay and I made that clear, and the team knew that the whole time,” Gross said. “I appreciate their willingness to make it happen and come up with a deal we’re both happy with. Bottom line, it was best for me and my family to stay here when you take into account the community and team, the roots we’ve laid here and relationships in the building.”
Gross, 32, is a 10-year veteran who has appeared in two Pro Bowls. Though his prime has passed, Gross still served as a solid left tackle for Cam Newton and the Carolina offense last season and has missed just one game since 2010.
The Panthers met the March 12th deadline to get under the cap after general manager Dave Gettleman inherited a team that was nearly $16 million over the cap. But after re-signing players like defensive tackle Dwan Edwards and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, and adding free agents like kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. and cornerback D.J. Moore, the Panthers had very little breathing room with the cap before Tuesday.
“I want to help this team on and off the field, and this is something that helps the team off and is still good for me,” Gross said. “I obviously think we can win or else I probably wouldn’t have been as excited about staying. Definitely pieces are being put together for us to have a shot at winning the division and so on.”
Gross’ deal before the restructure was set to end after the 2014 season and the current deal, despite being a contract extension, will void at the completion of the 2013 season. But he is not talking retirement just yet.
“I still feel really good. I love playing,” Gross said. “I’m thrilled to be part of the organization still. A number of different things can happen. The beauty the way this deal has worked out, the team and I both felt good about it.”
Immediate impact: It didn’t take long for the Panthers to use some of their extra spending money.
Former New York Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn agreed to a two-year deal with Carolina, his agent Richard Katz said.
Blackburn, an eight-year veteran, had spent his entire career with the Giants and current Panthers general manager and former Giants executive Dave Gettleman.
He brings with him experience and versatility at linebacker, and two Super Bowl rings, something that was lacking from last year’s Panthers locker room.
Last season he played in 15 games and tallied three sacks and 64 tackles.
The Panthers have their starting linebacking corps set with Thomas Davis at weakside, Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly at middle and Jon Beason at strongside. Earlier this month Carolina cut James Anderson, the former starter on the strongside.
Edwards gets 2 years: The Panthers also officially announced the re-signing of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.
The move had been reported by the Observer earlier this week without contract details. A league source said Edwards signed a two-year deal with the club.
Edwards rejected a one-year, $1.5 million deal the Panthers offered earlier in the offseason, saying he wanted a longer, more lucrative contract.
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