Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers to pick up option on Star Lotulelei

The Panthers will pick up the fifth-year option for defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and general manager Dave Gettleman indicated he’d like to get the 2013 first-round locked up with a long-term deal.

Lotulelei, the 14th overall pick in Gettleman’s first Panthers draft, would make more than $6 million on the 2017 option.

Gettleman’s first priority at the position will be getting an extension for Kawann Short.

The Panthers have don’t a fifth-year option on Short because he was taken in the second round in 2013. Short, whose 11 sacks last season were the most by a Panthers defensive tackle, is set to become a free agent in 2017.

Lotulelei got off to a slow start in 2015 after missing the first two games with a stress reaction in his surgically repaired foot. He finished with only 13 tackles in 14 games, but he had a total of five stops over the final three games.

Lotulelei’s sack numbers have decreased every year, from three as a rookie to one last season. But Gettleman said he’s pleased with the 6-2, 320-pounder from Utah.

“Once he got confident with that foot he really closed strong,” Gettleman said Tuesday. “He’s done everything we wanted. Star has not disappointed by any stretch of the imagination and he’s getting better. He’s earned this. I’m excited we’re going to have him around for two more years.”

Lotulelei and Short have been linked since Gettleman took them 1-2 in 2013 and introduced the Carolinas to the expression, “hog mollies.”

Asked about the possibility of keeping the tandem together for several more years, Gettleman said: “Nothing would make me happier.”

Punter possibility drops off list

Scratch one punter off the Panthers’ list.

Former Jacksonville punter Bryan Anger, who had preliminary contract talks with the Panthers, agreed to terms with Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

The Panthers have to replace Brad Nortman, who signed a four-year, $8.8 million deal with the Jaguars on the first day of free agency.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week at the NFL annual meetings he wants to bring in someone to compete with Swayze Waters, the former CFL punter who signed with Carolina last month.

A league source said Carolina had discussed contract parameters with Anger, drafted in the third round in 2012 ahead of such players as Russell Wilson, Josh Norman, Olivier Vernon and Mohamed Sanu.

Anger, 27, has a career average of 46.8 yards per punt, second behind Shane Lechler among active punters. Anger’s net average is 40.5 yards, compared to Nortman’s 38.9-yard net average during four seasons with the Panthers.

“You want really a guy like Brad to a degree that is going to be able to do things we’re looking to do and build within the framework,” Rivera said Monday. “You want a guy that’s going to kick the ball somewhere in the 40s with a four-and-a-half-second hang time and go from there.”

Rivera said the Panthers have discussed free agent punters, as well those available in the draft. New assistant special teams coach Thomas McGaughey has attended a couple of punting camps to scout prospects, Rivera said.

Rule changes approved

NFL owners passed several rule changes Tuesday at the annual meetings but voted down a proposal by Panthers coach Ron Rivera to have the intentional grounding rule expanded, a league official told the Observer.

Rivera believes the grounding rule, which allows quarterbacks to throw in the vicinity of a receiver to avoid a sack, is too ambiguous. But any proposal that would potentially take protection away from a quarterback was unlikely to be approved.

The rule changes include:

▪ Keeping the spot of extra points at the 15 permanently.

▪ Outlawing all forms of chop blocks.

▪ Extending the horse collar tackle rule to include the nameplate area on jerseys.

▪ Calling a delay of game penalty on teams that attempt to call a timeout when not permitted to do so.

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