Carolina’s top position battle this preseason has gotten a little more high-stakes.
Two sources told the Observer on Wednesday that the Panthers are gauging trade interest in veteran punter Andy Lee and rookie kicker (and seventh-round draft pick) Harrison Butker.
Lee has competed in the spring and summer with left-footed punter Michael Palardy, who was signed to take over Lee’s duties last season when the latter tore his hamstring. Rivera has called the contest “even” thus far in the preseason, though Palardy does maintain a very slight net punting edge of 44.7 yards to Lee’s 43.8, with six live opportunities to Lee’s five.
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Mike Jurecki, of 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, reported Wednesday the Cardinals have interest in Lee. Matt Wile and Richie Leone have been competing to be Arizona’s punter, but Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hasn’t been pleased with either of them, according to a story on the team’s website.
Still, Lee was considered to be the favorite heading into camp and no decision has been made regarding who Carolina keeps – and likely won’t be until after Thursday night’s preseason contest.
Lee took a pay cut this spring from base salaries of $3.43 million in 2017 and $4.13 million in 2018 to $1 million and $1.1 million, respectively. That manageable sum, plus his name-recognition, are possibly two appealing factors to teams in the market for a punter.
Lee, 35, spent most of his career in San Francisco and the 2015 season in Cleveland before being acquired by Carolina last August. Former Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman sent a fourth-round draft pick and punter Kasey Redfern to the Browns in exchange for Lee and a seventh-round pick.
That pick was used to select Butker in the 2017 NFL draft.
Butker has been competing with veteran kicker Graham Gano throughout camp and the preseason. The two have largely been even as well and head coach Ron Rivera has remarked as such, but Gano told the Observer after Monday’s practice that he feels the job is still his.