Panthers Personnel Update

There has no been progress thus far for the Panthers in reaching a contract extension with WR Muhsin Muhammad. Clearly, he is the top priority this offseason, but the Panthers are determined not to mortgage the future to sign a 32-year-old wide receiver, even one who led the league in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2004.<br><br> Medical Update on Davis, Draft tidbit, Free Agency Updates and an overview of the new Special Teams Coach -- <b>INSIDE!</b>

There has no been progress thus far for the Panthers in reaching a contract extension with WR Muhsin Muhammad. Clearly, he is the top priority this offseason, but the Panthers are determined not to mortgage the future to sign a 32-year-old wide receiver, even one who led the league in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2004. Muhammad is still under contract through 2005, so the franchise tag is not an option. The problem is, Muhammad is due a $10 million bonus on March 1 and his cap figure is a staggering $12.5 million for 2005, more than double any other player on the team's roster, including the team's other star wide receiver, Steve Smith. The Panthers can't afford to keep Muhammad at that price, so they're looking to rework the existing deal. If they can't, Muhammad will be cut and become a free agent. If that happens, look for the Washington Redskins to be a key player in signing Muhammad.

COACHING CAROUSEL: The Panthers didn't have to look very long, or very far, to find a replacement for special teams coach Scott O'Brien.

Panthers head coach John Fox announced the promotion of special teams assistant Danny Crossman to special teams coach. Crossman replaces Scott O'Brien, who retired from coaching last week and has since joined the Miami Dolphins to become the coordinator of football operations. O'Brien will help assemble talent for the Dolphins special teams but will not be coaching this year.

The Panthers believe Crossman is experienced enough to handle the job.

"Danny has done an outstanding job for us in his two seasons here and prepared for the position as an assistant to Scott," Fox said. "He has worked with special teams on both the college and the pro level with success."

In the 2003 season Crossman played an integral role on the special teams, which finished second in the comprehensive ratings by the Dallas Morning News.

"I want to thank Coach Fox and Marty Hurney for their confidence and providing me this opportunity," Crossman said. "We have a great staff I enjoy working with and a good nucleus of players. I am looking forward to further building on the tradition of solid special teams play that exists here."

Crossman joined the Panthers from Michigan State, where he served as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Before joining the Spartans, Crossman spent three seasons at Georgia Tech. While at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets ranked among the NCAA leaders in kickoff returns (21st), net punting (28th) and punt returns (30th) in 2001. In 2000, his units led the ACC in kickoff and punt return average.

Crossman, 38, played at the University of Pittsburgh from 1987-89 and helped the Panthers to a combined 22-12-1 record. He spent two seasons on injured reserved with Washington (1990) and Detroit (1991) and played two years with the London Monarchs (1991-92) in the World League of American Football. He intercepted three passes in the inaugural World Bowl in 1991 to earn most valuable player recognition as the Monarchs shut out Barcelona 21-0.

FREE-AGENT UPDATE:

--LB Brian Allen (UFA, Mainly a special teams player. The Panthers might try to keep him but won't break the bank doing so or overpay to keep him).

--WR Karl Hankton (UFA, the special teams captain the last three years; the Panthers definitely want him back in 2005. They may face competition from Miami to get him as Scott O'Brien tries to lure him south).

--DE Kavika Pittman (UFA, spent the last two years on IR and it seems unlikely the Panthers, or anyone else, for that matter, would give him anything more than a one-year, league-minimum deal).

--RB Rod Smart (UFA, coming off an injury, he shouldn't be hard to re-sign. A decent kick returner and gunner, but Smart is certainly not irreplaceable. Carolina will try to re-sign him but won't overpay).

--OG Rich Tylski (UFA, he was an insurance policy in 2004. Certainly there will be better options in free agency and in the draft).

--OT Matt Willig (UFA, after 13 years, Willig might decide to hang it up. It's unlikely the Panthers would want to keep him. They'd probably like to find two tackles in free agency).

--LB Will Witherspoon (RFA. Starting outside linebacker with great speed and potential. Starting to blossom into a star and had four picks last season. He will be back, but whether he gets a long-term deal or a one-year qualifying offer remains undecided).

FEELING A DRAFT: With the Panthers drafting right in the middle of the pack (between 13 and 15), there's no telling who will be available to them. They could go a number of ways, depending on what happens in free agency and with WR Muhsin Muhammad. Positions the team would like to upgrade include offensive tackle, defensive tackle and free safety.

MEDICAL WATCH: There is still no clear timetable concerning when RB Stephen Davis is expected to begin running or when he might return to the field following microfracture knee surgery. But all indications are that it may be later rather than sooner. Don't be stunned if the injury lingers into training camp and keeps Davis out most of the preseason if not the regular season. With that in mind, it's hardly out of the realm of possibility the Panthers could release Davis at some point this offseason and turn the starting job over to DeShaun Foster.

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