The Carolina Panthers extended the contracts of three players Wednesday, including a versatile offensive lineman who is in the running to start at left tackle.
Nate Chandler, competing with Byron Bell for the role of protecting Cam Newton’s blind side, signed a three-year extension, and backup defensive end Mario Addison and special teams standout Colin Jones received two-year extensions, the team announced.
Chandler’s extension is worth $7.95 million over three years, including $1.87 million in guarantees, according to a league source. Financial terms for Jones and Addison were not disclosed.
All three were heading into contract years. Chandler would have become a restricted free agent after the season, and Addison and Jones were set to become unrestricted free agents.
General manager Dave Gettleman said he wanted to be proactive with three players the Panthers believe are on the rise.
“When you have young guys that buy in and work their fannies off and they show ascending talent, you’re crazy not to do something about it,” Gettleman said.
Chandler, 25, a former defensive tackle, started eight games last season – six at right guard and two at right tackle. The Panthers were 7-1 in those games.
Following the retirement of longtime left tackle Jordan Gross during February, Chandler appears to be a lock to start at one tackle position.
“Thirteen months ago we went to him and talked to him about turning around. He’s embraced it,” Gettleman said of Chandler’s switch to offense.
Addison, 26, is a situational pass-rusher who posted career highs last season with 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 15 pressures. He started two games when Charles Johnson was out with a knee injury, contributing a sack and four pressures during a Week 12 win at Miami.
“He’s athletic and he can run,” Gettleman said of Addison. “It was a matter of him getting stronger.”
Jones, 26, has been one of the Panthers’ best special teams players since being acquired from San Francisco in 2012. He has 21tackles the past two seasons, including a team-high 10 in 2013.
Jones has been working with the second-team defense at free safety during organized team activities and minicamp, and had two interceptions during a practice last week. After injuries to several defensive backs during a last-minute loss at Buffalo last season, Jones made the apparent victory-sealing interception before it was negated by penalty.
Gettleman said the Panthers wanted to extend Jones regardless of the decision to increase his reps at safety.
“He’s too good a (special) teams guy,” Gettleman said.
McDonald, 25, who joined the Panthers as a practice squad member last season, said he noticed a “little bump” and mentioned it to a team physician during a physical May 19. An ultrasound revealed the cancer, and he had surgery the following day.
“It was obviously surprising. Then they scheduled surgery for the next day, so it kind of hits you at once,” McDonald said. “I just kind of made up my mind not to get down, not to let it affect me, as much as I could. Just stay positive, and obviously it’s worked out. Thank God for that.”
McDonald said doctors believe they caught the cancer before it spread. He said the incision is healing well and he expects to be ready for the start of training camp next month.
McDonald also talked for the first time about the Miami Dolphins’ hazing scandal. He was “Player A” in the Ted Wells report that looked into the bullying of offensive lineman Jonathan Martin.
According to the Wells report, McDonald “frequently was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching,” and was spoken to in a demeaning, homophobic way.
The Wells report also states former Miami offensive line coach Jim Turner gave McDonald a male blow-up doll as a 2012 Christmas gift during McDonald’s rookie season.
“I just kind of saw it as rookie – picking on the rookies and stuff. And just kind of playing around, messing with them,” McDonald said. “But some people goes a little too far sometimes. That’s pretty much it.”
McDonald was asked whether the bullying had gone too far with him.
“I don’t think I want to get into that, really,” he said.
Benjamin said he’ll spend the four weeks before training camp in Charlotte, where Newton will continue his rehab following March ankle surgery.
“The nice thing is Cam will be around,” coach Ron Rivera said. “I know the two of those guys will be working on developing that rapport, which I think is important.”
Newton and Benjamin failed to hook up on a couple of fade routes Wednesday, although Benjamin is confident that connection will come.
“We’ve just got to keep working on them,” Benjamin said. “It’s just a timing thing with fade routes.”
• Benjamin climbed the ladder over linebacker A.J. Klein and safety Thomas DeCoud to pull down a Derek Anderson pass in the back of the end zone during 9-on-9 drills.
• Brad Nortman boomed a couple of 60-yard punts, including one that cornerback Antoine Cason fielded one-handed. Rivera said Cason could be used in situations when the Panthers need a sure-handed returner.
• Wide receiver Kealoha Pilares caught underneath passes from Joe Webb on consecutive plays during the two-minute drill. Pilares also fielded punts with Cason.
• Rookie David Foucault, the French-Canadian who made the team as a tryout player, is struggling to adjust to the speed of the NFL game. Addison beat him easily early in Wednesday’s practice.
• With another hot day forecast for Thursday, the Panthers will start the final minicamp practice at 9:45 a.m., 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. Offensive lineman Derek Dennis was carted in at the end of Wednesday’s practice after overheating.