The Carolina Panthers primed for the start of free agency Wednesday by again taking care of one of their own.
Fullback Mike Tolbert, a versatile player and strong locker room influence, re-signed on a two-year deal several hours before becoming an unrestricted free agent with the start of the league year at 4 p.m.
The contract is worth nearly $2 million per year, according to a league source.
Tolbert said he drew offers from other teams, adding he “left a little bit on the table” to stay in Charlotte and remain with teammates he referred to as family.
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Tolbert is not the only Panthers player who took less money to remain with a team coming off a 15-win regular season and the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.
Tolbert’s signing came the same morning the Panthers brought back defensive end Charles Johnson on a 1-year deal after cutting him last week in a salary-cap move. Johnson accepted a $3 million contract from the Panthers that was half what another team offered him, according to his agent.
Tolbert likes the Panthers’ chances to make another Super Bowl run in 2016.
“We basically have the same team as last year,” he said in a teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “We obviously didn’t accomplish our ultimate goal, but we made it. This year our plan is to get back and win it.”
Tolbert, 30, has been effective as a runner, blocker and receiver since joining the Panthers in 2012 following four seasons in San Diego. Tolbert’s original deal with the Panthers was four years and $10 million.
Tolbert has accumulated 878 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns with Carolina, and he also has 84 receptions for 699 yards and five touchdowns. He’s been selected to the Pro Bowl in two of the past three seasons.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he was glad to have Tolbert back for several reasons.
“He brings valuable versatility with the different positions he can play on offense and what he does on special teams,” Rivera said in a statement. “He’s been an integral part of what we do offensively and is one of our team leaders.”
Tolbert uncharacteristically had two fumbles in the Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver. He recovered one, but the Broncos fell on the second.
“It’s football. Everybody knows I don’t fumble like that often,” Tolbert said. “So it happens.”
Tolbert said he hasn’t yet brought himself to watch the video of the Panthers’ 24-10 loss in Santa Clara, Calif.
“No, no,” he said. “It’s so hard to watch because we just didn’t play like ourselves. So I’m not even going to attempt to watch it.”
But he’s glad to see the Panthers make an effort to keep that Super Bowl team mostly intact.
“It was just something that (Dave) Gettleman and Mr. Richardson and coach Rivera are all about, maintaining the culture and keeping the right guys in the locker room,” Tolbert said. “I think that’s just proof in the pudding with myself and Charles being back this year.”