CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers placed quarterback Jake Delhomme on injured reserve Thursday with a broken finger on his throwing hand, ending his worst season as a pro and raising questions about his future with the franchise.
Delhomme said he broke the knuckle on his middle finger during a Nov. 29 loss to the New York Jets. He hasn't played or practiced since.
"We thought he might be further along as far as his finger," Panthers coach John Fox said. "We kind of looked at it this week as far as gripping the ball, throwing the ball, and it wasn't up to speed. We felt we needed to get another quarterback up."
The Panthers (6-8) promoted quarterback Hunter Cantwell from the practice squad to take Delhomme's roster spot. A.J. Feeley is No. 2 on the depth chart behind Matt Moore, who started the last three games and threw for a career-high 299 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday's upset of the Minnesota Vikings.
Despite committing six turnovers in Carolina's ugly playoff loss to Arizona in January, Delhomme received a lucrative contract extension during the offseason. While it's a five-year deal, it's structured to be a three-year contract worth more than $25 million, with nearly $13 million guaranteed.
Delhomme then committed five more turnovers in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the season opener, and he had 18 interceptions and eight touchdown passes in 11 games before sustaining the injury. Struggling with his accuracy, Delhomme completed just 55.5 percent of his passes.
"The '09 year, starting in January with the playoff game, for whatever reason it just hasn't been good football-wise for me," Delhomme said. "Certainly you want to finish, you want to get back out and play, but some things are just not meant to be."
While Delhomme is 58-40 as a starter with Carolina and led the franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance, his year of bad play has led to calls for a new quarterback.
If the salary cap remains in effect next season, the Panthers might have no choice but to bring Delhomme back because of his contract. But if negotiations stall on a new collective bargaining agreement and there is no cap, the Panthers could more easily jettison Delhomme.
Fox didn't clear up the issue Thursday.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of talk -- there usually is," Fox said. "But with us, all of our focus is on the New York Giants. After that week, we'll finish up with the New Orleans Saints. And we evaluate everything after that. That would be true of our whole football team."
Delhomme acknowledged that the Panthers haven't told him if they'll bring him back next season.
"There is a lot a time before they have to worry about making decisions and things of that nature," Delhomme said.
Steve Smith, Delhomme's top wide receiver, sidestepped questions about the quarterback's future.
"I'm nobody to answer a question like that," Smith said. "That's playing somebody that I'm not."
Moore was limited in practice with a sore shoulder, but he's expected to start Sunday against the Giants. Cantwell went undrafted out of Louisville and was on the practice squad after being cut before the start of the regular season.
The Panthers don't hold a first-round pick next year, which also could factor in on whether Delhomme is their quarterback in 2010. But Delhomme made it clear that he wants to be back.
"A hundred percent, yes," Delhomme said. "There is nothing inside of me that says let's try to start over someplace. Absolutely not. Not even remotely close."
Notes: The Panthers were again without RBs DeAngelo Williams (ankle) and Tyrell Sutton (calf) in practice Thursday. RB Jonathan Stewart (Achilles' tendon) practiced after sitting out Wednesday. ... CB Richard Marshall (ankle) was limited. ... The team added RB Devin Moore to take Cantwell's spot on the practice squad.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press