The Carolina Panthers have spent much of the offseason rebuilding their secondary and receiving corps.
But the defensive front seven – the team’s strength during the 12-win season in 2013 – will return intact.
Defensive tackle Colin Cole, who started 13 games for the Panthers last season after being out of football for two years, has agreed to terms on a one-year contract, a league source said Tuesday.
Cole and defensive end Greg Hardy were the only starters among the front seven eligible for free agency. Hardy signed his franchise tag tender last month, which guarantees him $13.1 million this season.
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And while Cole’s deal will be worth considerably less – likely a slight bump from his $840,000 salary in 2013 – the 6-2, 335-pounder was a valuable piece of the league’s second-ranked defense last season.
Cole, 33, was credited with 19 tackles, one sack and three quarterback pressures in his first season with the Panthers. He stepped into the starting lineup when Dwan Edwards was hampered by a hamstring injury early in the season.
Cole wound up playing 31 percent of the defensive snaps, clogging holes and keeping blockers off linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Cole was one of the feel-good stories from the Panthers’ playoff season. Sidelined for two years after four ankle surgeries, Cole moved to Charlotte in 2012 to be closer to his wife’s family in South Carolina.
He called the Panthers last winter, and they happened to be looking for another defensive tackle. Cole worked out for the Panthers, signed a one-year deal and became the Week 1 starter.
“Every rep that I get is a great opportunity. The last two years I was sitting at home right now. I have the opportunity to be out on the field,” Cole told the Observer last fall. “And every chance on the practice field, in the weight room, in the classroom and obviously on game day, every chance I get to step on the field, I’m just ecstatic that I have the opportunity.”