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Panthers’ Williams restructures contract

The Carolina Panthers’ all-time rushing leader will keep his place in the team’s crowded backfield, at least for the foreseeable future.

Veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, the subject of trade rumors since last season, restructured his contract this week in a move that gives the Panthers salary-cap relief for the next several years.

Williams, 30, signed a five-year, $43 million contract in 2011 before Ron Rivera’s first season in Carolina. Given how infrequently former offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski used Williams, most observers thought the Panthers overpaid to extend the contract of their first-round draft pick from 2006.

Williams was due to make $5 million in salary and workout bonuses this season, with a cap figure of $8.2 million. Under the terms of the restructured deal, Williams still collects $5 million, although his base drops from $4.75 million to $850,000, according to contract figures obtained by the Observer on Wednesday.

Williams’ restructuring was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

“It’s very important. I don’t want to get into it, but the news did break, and we’re excited,” said Rivera, speaking from Knights Stadium in Fort Mill while a handful of Panthers participated in batting practice Wednesday night. “We’re excited to have him and we’re excited for the team.”

Williams received a $4 million signing bonus for reworking his deal. His cap figure dips to $5 million this season, a savings of $3.2 million.

The restructured deal also helps the Panthers with future salary caps, which is what new general manager Dave Gettleman said he wanted to accomplish shortly after inheriting a cap-strapped roster from former GM Marty Hurney.

The Panthers technically gave Williams a two-year extension, although the final two years were added for accounting purposes and will void if Williams is still on the roster on Feb. 11, 2016.

The restructuring lowers Williams’ cap figure from $9.2 million to $6 million in 2014, and from $10.2 million to $6.33 million in 2015. The Panthers will absorb $2.3 million in “dead money” when the 2016 and ’17 seasons are voided.

The Panthers are now about $8.5 million under the cap, giving them flexibility to bring in a free agent or roll over the cap space to next year.

Williams becomes the sixth Panthers player to restructure his contract since Gettleman arrived. He joins center Ryan Kalil, left tackle Jordan Gross, tight end Greg Olsen, safety Haruki Nakamura and Jonathan Stewart, Williams’ friend and backfield mate who missed seven games last season due to ankle injuries.

With Stewart out, Williams finished with 173 carries for 737 yards and five touchdowns. He was the Panthers’ second-leading rusher behind Cam Newton, who became the first quarterback to lead his team in rushing since Donovan McNabb in 2000.

The Panthers fielded a call from at least one playoff-contending team inquiring about Williams at the trade deadline last fall. But Carolina kept Williams, who rushed for a team-record 210 yards in a Week 17 win at New Orleans.

In addition to Williams and Stewart, the Panthers have fullback and short-yardage specialist Mike Tolbert, whose seven rushing touchdowns in 2012 were the most among the team’s running backs. Carolina also added a running back in the draft with sixth-round pick Kenjon Barner, a short, speedy back who adds another dimension to the offense.

Despite calls from some outside the organization to trade Williams, the Panthers have not indicated a willingness to do so.

Besides helping offset future cap hits, Williams’ restructuring also could signal a commitment to the downhill running approach the Panthers employed the final few games last season. Mike Shula, who succeeded Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, Rivera and Gettleman indicated this offseason the team plans to feature the zone-read package as more of a wrinkle than a staple of the offense.

Staff writer Jonathan Jones contributed.

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