Carolina Panthers

Panthers sign center Gino Gradkowski, add depth behind veteran Ryan Kalil

By Joseph Person

jperson@charlotteobserver.com

Finding a backup center was one of the Panthers' objectives entering free agency.

They can check that need off their list after signing former Baltimore center Gino Gradkowski to a three-year deal Thursday. Gradkowski, Baltimore's fourth-round pick in 2012, will back up Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and also can play guard as needed.

The Panthers tried to claim Gradkowski when the Broncos put him on waivers before Week 1 last season, but the Falcons took him ahead of Carolina. Gradkowski played in three games for Atlanta, with one start.

Gradkowski, 27, is the younger brother of Bruce Gradkowski, a backup quarterback who's played for several NFL teams.

Gino Gradkowski, who played at Delaware, started 16 games for the Ravens in 2013 but was a reserve the following season. Baltimore traded him to Denver before the 2015 season, but the Broncos waived him before he played a regular-season game for them.

He will fill the role held last season by guard/center Fernando Velasco, a free agent who is not expected to return. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Gradkowski provides depth in the interior of the line.

"You feel very secure that if something were to happen, you can plug him in and not lose everything," Rivera told the team's website. "It's very much like with Fernando last year when something happened with Kalil, he had to come in and start the Indianapolis game. We believe that's what Gradkowski can do for us."

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