Panthers veteran linebacker Jon Beason will get a chance to start again, albeit for a new team following an abrupt exit for a former first-round draft pick and three-time Pro Bowler.
Beason, less than two weeks after losing his starting job in Carolina, was traded to the New York Giants on Friday in a deal Panthers coach Ron Rivera said benefits Beason and his former team.
The Panthers said they will receive a late-round draft pick in return. General manger Dave Gettleman, who spent 15 years in the Giants’ front office before coming to Carolina in January, has been unavailable to the media.
The deal wasn’t finalized until Beason passed his physical with the Giants (0-4) on Friday.
The Panthers (1-2) will have to absorb $8million in dead money against the salary cap. The team did not announce a corresponding roster move.
“The trade benefits both the team and Jon,” Rivera said. “We’ll obviously get something out of it and it gives Jon the opportunity to get on the field right away.”
The Panthers didn’t get a lot in return for Beason, whose career has been sidetracked by injuries the past two years.
Beason, 28, has played in just seven games since signing a five-year, $51million contract extension before the 2011 season. He tore his Achilles in the ’11 season opener at Arizona, and went down after Week 4 last season with knee and shoulder issues.
After a slow start through the first two games this year, Beason was replaced at outside linebacker by ex-Giant Chase Blackburn in a Week 3 win against the Giants. It was the first time in Beason’s 72 games with the Panthers he didn’t start.
Beason met with Rivera on Thursday morning and told him he still wanted to be a starter. Rivera informed him the Panthers were sticking with Blackburn, and Beason broached the subject of playing elsewhere.
“I said I know I have value,” Beason told the New York Daily News. “I know somewhere else could use me, and they made it happen.”
Rivera said Beason handled the situation professionally.
“It was tough on him,” Rivera said. “He’s a very prideful young man who’s a solid football player and wanted the opportunity (to be a starter). And he was great about it. When he and I sat down and talked, he was as professional as it gets. We talked about what his desires were, and that’s where we are.”
Panthers veteran receiver Steve Smith said it was tough saying goodbye to his friend and teammate.
“When your friend gets traded, I don’t care how neat it’s done, you always feel like, ‘Man, why’d they have to do him like that?’” Smith said. “And not saying the organization did him good or bad. But as a friend, when you see a friend leave, you wish him the best but you wish him here.”
Rivera told his players about the trade Friday morning during a team meeting.
Most had read or heard about reports of the trade Thursday night, and a couple of Beason’s teammates took to Twitter to express their feelings about the move.
“WE DID WHAT??????” wideout Brandon LaFell tweeted.
Linebacker Thomas Davis, who trained with Beason when both were recovering from serious injuries before the 2012 season, called it a “Sad Day” on his Twitter account.
“It’s very tough because of what he’s meant to this organization and what he’s meant to this team, the defense and to the linebackers,” Rivera said. “He texted me this morning and said, ‘Hey, I just want to make sure everybody knows I truly appreciate everything and I love the guys in the locker room.’ That was the message.”
Beason has been playing through pain following microfracture surgery on his right knee in October. In a loss to Buffalo in Week 2, Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel threw at Beason five times, completing all five for 112 yards.
The following week, Beason was in just for one snap in the 38-0 victory against the Giants. But Rivera said he doesn’t think the Panthers rushed Beason’s recovery.
“We were looking for the guy that we know he’s capable of being. Maybe it’s now just a matter of him continuing to work through it,” Rivera said. “There’s some things he still does very well, and there’s some things he’s still not there yet. And as he goes through it and get stronger and stronger, I think he has an opportunity to ascend. This gives him that opportunity to get back on the field and compete.”
Beason would seem to be a better fit at middle linebacker, which has fewer coverage responsibilities. Beason is expected to compete in New York with Mark Herzlich, who has been starting at middle linebacker since former Panther Dan Connor’s season-ending neck injury.
Beason lost his starting spot at middle linebacker spot with the Panthers to Luke Kuechly, who led the league in tackles and won the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award last season after Beason went on injured reserve.
Beason believes he can return to his Pro Bowl form when healthy.
“In this league, or in this business, injuries are like being late to work. It’s only a matter of time before it happens,” Beason told the Daily News. “It’s only a matter of time before it happens. You hate it, but you deal with it and you go through it, but I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of.”
Beason, a first-round pick out of Miami in 2007, has 701 career tackles for the Panthers, second behind Mike Minter (953) on the Panthers’ all-time list.
Early in his career, Beason was the team’s best tackler. He was first rookie in club history to lead the team in tackles, and his first four seasons produced the top four single-season tackle totals in team history at the time.
Beason made the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons.
Before rupturing his left Achilles in the 2011 season opener at Arizona, Beason had started 65 consecutive games – the fourth-longest streak in club history.
But injuries have taken a toll the past two years.
“You can never be that (same) old player, especially when injuries and age set in,” Smith said. “You can improve and you can play better. But you’re never who you are each and every year. You progress or digress. I wouldn’t say Jon digressed. I think he ran into some injuries that (did not) enable him to show how well he can play and how smart he was.”
Had he not been traded, this likely would have been Beason’s final season with Carolina.
In July, he agreed to a $4.25million pay cut as part of a restructured contract that voids after the season. Beason can recoup $1.75million if he’s active for all 16 games.
Smith said it won’t be the same around Bank of America Stadium without Beason.
“It’s a part of this business, but it just sucks that it is,” Smith said. “I don’t really think he did anything wrong. He did the best he can with the circumstances.”
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