The Carolina Panthers’ punting competition has come to a conclusion with its fifth punter in five months.
The Panthers traded for Cleveland punter Andy Lee on Monday, making it clear their intention to go into the Week 1 game against Denver with the former All Pro and ending the preseason competition for the spot.
Carolina sent punter Kasey Redfern and a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft to the Browns in exchange for Lee and a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft.
Lee, 34, is a three-time first-team All Pro punter who most recently received the honor in 2012 with the 49ers. His 46.2-yard gross punting average in his 12-year career is good for sixth all-time in league history, and his 325 punts inside the 20 rank ninth all-time.
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He signed a six-year deal worth $20.4 million in 2012 with the 49ers, who traded him to the Browns last season. In Cleveland, Lee set franchise records in gross average (46.7 yards) and net average (40.1 yards).
Lee, a South Carolina native who was drafted out of Pittsburgh in the sixth round of the 2004 draft, is set to make $2.83 million this season. Lee is under contract through 2018 and is still owed $10.4 million in base salary on his deal.
The trade effectively ends the punting competition, though veteran Mike Scifres is still on the roster while he nurses an injury to his kicking leg suffered during last week’s exhibition against New England.
Carolina has been struggling to fill the position left vacant by Brad Nortman all preseason, and it became increasingly clear that the answer wasn’t on the roster.
Nortman signed a four-year, $8.8 million deal with Jacksonville in March after Carolina opted not to re-sign their former draft pick. The Panthers first patched the position with CFL punter Swayze Waters and Michael Palardy but cut Palardy before training camp.
They then brought in Scifres, who was coming off the worst season of his career in San Diego and offseason surgery to his plant leg. Carolina cut Waters at training camp and signed Redfern, a former Wofford punter who has never kicked in an NFL regular-season game.
Scifres injured his kicking leg on the first punt of the New England exhibition and further injured it on the second punt that went just 21 yards. Redfern performed well in his place, booting two punts of 61 yards each – though he outkicked the coverage on his second punt and it was returned 60 yards.
The Panthers were keeping an eye on the Broncos’ punting situation this week, where veteran Britton Colquitt could be traded or cut. Colquitt is set to make $3.25 million this year, in the final year of his contract.
Lee’s $2.8 million cap figure is more than Nortman’s $2.15 million cap hit in Jacksonville. Lee has a 1 yard advantage over Nortman in career gross punting average and a .6 yard advantage over Nortman in net punting average. But Lee led Nortman in every meaningful punting category in 2015.
Lee will likely be the team’s only punter in Thursday night’s exhibition against Pittsburgh, and he’ll have a week to get his timing and rhythm down as a holder for kicker Graham Gano.