Slowly but surely, the Carolina Panthers are restocking their depleted wide receiver corps.
The Panthers signed free-agent wideout Jason Avant to a one-year contract Monday, the team announced. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Avant becomes the third free-agent receiver to sign with the Panthers, joining former Pittsburgh red-zone specialist Jerricho Cotchery and former Tampa Bay wideout Tiquan Underwood.
The Panthers cut franchise receiving leader Steve Smith last month and saw three other receivers – Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon – leave in free agency.
And while they still don’t have a true No. 1 receiver – Panthers coach Ron Rivera says they don’t necessarily need one – they picked up a sure-handed, possession receiver in Avant, who spent his first eight seasons in Philadelphia.
Avant, who turns 31 in two weeks, was cut last month in a move that saved the Eagles more than $3 million in salary-cap space. Avant, Philadelphia’s fourth-round pick from Michigan in 2006, ranks 11th in Eagles history with 297 catches for 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Avant (6-foot-2, 210) had three consecutive seasons with at least 50 catches (2010-2012). His productivity slipped a bit in Eagles coach Chip Kelly’s system last season, when Avant pulled down 38 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns.
“We are happy to have Jason with the Panthers,” Rivera said in a release. “He provides a versatile player at receiver and brings good size as well as experience to the position.”
Avant was one of two free agents who visited the Panthers on Monday at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers continue to talk with former Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud, although the two sides do not have an agreement in place, according to two league sources.
Avant reminds some in the Panthers’ organization of Cotchery – a tough, veteran receiver who is a reliable pass-catcher. Like Cotchery, Avant also has the reputation of being a high-character player.
When Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman released Smith, he did so in part to turn over the locker-room leadership. He wanted to find older receivers who would help groom young receivers Marvin McNutt and Tavarres King, as well any rookies the Panthers might pick in a receiving-rich draft.
Avant was an organizer of the Eagles’ team Bible studies and a fixture at the JUGS machine, working with young tight ends and wideouts after practice, according to an ESPN.com article after Avant was cut.
The same story recounted Kelly’s admiration when Avant approached the coach during a snowy game against Detroit in December and told Kelly to run the ball toward Avant.
“Jason is on the sideline asking me, ‘Can we run the ball my way?’ ” Kelly said, according to ESPN.com. “I don’t know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way, but I think that’s kind of a testament to the team we have right now.”
The Eagles ended up cutting not only Avant, but also leading receiver DeSean Jackson, whose release came the same day as an NJ.com report detailing Jackson’s connections to known gang members in Los Angeles.
Despite the Panthers’ need at receiver, Gettleman was not interested in Jackson, who signed a three-year, $24 million deal with Washington.
Instead, the Panthers brought in Avant, who was vocal about the Eagles’ need to forgive Riley Cooper last summer after the wide receiver was caught on tape using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert.
“There have not been any players who have represented the Philadelphia Eagles with more class and dignity than Jason Avant,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said after Avant was released. “Whether it was in the locker room, on the playing field or in the community, he has always been a true professional, a role model and a winner every step of the way.”