Muhs-watch: 19 Days and counting

19 days and counting until the Carolina Panthers and Muhsin Muhammad could possibly part ways for good. <br><br> It's been highly publicized already, the fact that Muhammad being due a 10 million dollar roster bonus will force the Panthers to make a tough decision either way; do they pony up the cash and keep Muhammad for what is likely the rest of his professional career, or do they cut him free and try to find an adequate replacement? They have 19 days left to make up their minds.

It shouldn't be this difficult, right? It's a no brainer; Muhammad, a Pro Bowler for the second time in his 9 year career and first time All Pro should be resigned no questions asked. His production in the second half of the season was remarkable, and with Steve Smith returning and Keary Colbert solidifying the receiving corps, the Panthers would seem to have a formidable aerial assault.

However, it's not as easy as it sounds. The Panthers have already inked Smith to a relatively lucrative and long term deal last off-season, and Muhammad will be 32 on May 5th. Considering some of the deals that will be need to be made in the coming years, (Dan Morgan, DeShaun Foster for example) and the escalating salaries of players like Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross, Mike Rucker and Kris Jenkins, the Panthers may opt to alleviate themselves of many potential headaches by not re-signing Muhammad.

One such headache could be Steve Smith and his ego. Although Smith has publicly stated that he'd like to have Muhammad back with the Panthers, Smith has shown that he has a potentially volatile personality on more than one occasion. If Muhammad were to sign a deal for more money, it could inflame Smith, and would create a locker room distraction. Fox loves both players, but he loves Smith's explosiveness on the field more.

Other than the Offensive Line, the Panthers have few holes to fill in the 2005 off-season. With many key players returning from injury, the ones who stayed healthy gained valuable playing time and game experience. One of which is receiver Keary Colbert. Colbert, the all-time leading receiver for the USC Trojans, started in place of Steve Smith and played admirably, breaking nearly all of the Panthers rookie receiving records. Colbert isn't the blocking presence that Muhammad is, but has shown a knack for making tough catches – something Muhammad hasn't exactly excelled at during his career. The Panthers may feel comfortable enough handing the reigns to Colbert and allowing Muhammad to walk and seek his fortune somewhere else.

The Panthers could draft a player to fill the role of blocking receiver or simply re-sign Karl Hankton for a fraction of the cost it'd take to resign Muhammad. Hankton is also a very valuable asset on Special Teams and would help the Special Teams unit transition from the Scotty O'Brien era to the Danny Crossman era.

The Panthers have a difficult choice to make, and it's not always apparent why they make the decisions they do. Regardless of what they end up doing, this decision will have a ripple effect on and off the field for the next 4 to 5 years. The Panthers have stated that their new plan includes drafting talent and keeping the talent here. We'll find out if that applies to All-Pro Receivers within the next 19 days.

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