The Carolina Panthers have their leading left tackle candidate under contract.
Byron Bell, the team’s starter at right tackle the past three seasons, signed his restricted free agent tender Monday.
Bell, 25, undrafted out of New Mexico in 2011, received a second-round tender from the Panthers on March 10, worth $2.187 million.
He waited nearly two months before signing it, presumably while he waited to see if other teams were interested. Friday was the deadline for other teams to offer contracts to restricted free agents.
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Bell has been attending the Panthers’ offseason workouts in the interim. Now he’ll get to prove he can take Jordan Gross’ place protecting Cam Newton’s blind side.
Bell, 6-5 and 340 pounds, is a big, powerful run-blocker, and he can be effective as a pass-blocker when he gets into the defender. The concern among critics is whether Bell’s feet are quick enough to handle the left tackle spot.
Pro Football Focus ranked Bell 52nd among 76 offensive tackles last season, and had him with nine sacks allowed, six quarterback hits and 31 hurries.
By comparison, Gross was PFF’s third-rated tackle, with six sacks allowed, one quarterback hit and 22 hurries.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman believes too much is made of the footwork of left tackles.
“People talk about, ‘He’s got left tackle feet. He’s got to have left tackle feet.’ There are only so many elite tackles,” Gettleman said last week. “There are plenty of guys playing left tackle in this league that don’t have classic left tackle feet.
“If you only had left tackles that had classic left tackle athletic ability there’s only 15 teams that would send an offense out there with 11 guys because the other 15 wouldn’t have a guy to play left tackle.”
The other internal candidates for the Panthers at left tackle include former defensive lineman Nate Chandler and veteran guard/tackle Garry Williams.
ALEXANDER APOLOGIZES: Backup defensive end Frank Alexander, suspended the first four games of 2014 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, issued an apology Monday through the NFL Players Association.
Alexander’s suspension was announced Friday. He can participate in offseason drills and preseason practices and games before sitting out the first four regular-season games.
He can return to the active roster Sept. 29, after the Panthers’ Week 4 game at Baltimore.
“I recently learned that I tested positive for a substance that is banned by the NFL. The NFL policy is strict, and I have chosen to take responsibility,” Alexander said in the statement. “I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches and Panthers fans for the effect of my mistake on the team.
“I will continue to work extremely hard in all team workouts, training camp, and the preseason with my team. During the suspension, I will stay in top football shape and be ready to contribute immediately upon my return.”
Alexander, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2012, has made six starts in 28 games during his first two seasons. He showed promise as a situational pass-rusher as a rookie, although Mario Addison took over that role for much of last season.