Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Carolina Panthers
Less than a year ago, Jon Beason parlayed a third-straight trip to the Pro Bowl into a five-year, $50 million contract extension. A torn Achilles and the Carolina Panthers use of a top-10 pick on a middle linebacker (Boston College's Luke Kuechly) have increased the pressure on Beason heading into the 2012 season.
Under Pressure: Jon Beason
1. When asked by ESPNU who he felt the safest player in 2012 NFL Draft was, Beason said Kuechly. Imagine Beason's surprise when the Panthers took his advice and used the ninth-overall pick on a player who led the nation in tackles the last two seasons after finishing second as a freshman in 2009. Kuechly's NFL career will begin at weak-side linebacker, but a potential long-term replace at the middle linebacker spot is now on the roster.
2. Beason's biggest challenge this season won't come from Kuechly, it will be his ability to come back from a torn Achilles' tendon that ended his 2011 season in Week 1. Beason is being held out of the OTAs to ensure that he's ready for the start of training camp, and he faces plenty of questions. Will he have the agility to turn and run down the seam with a tight end like Jimmy Graham? Will the speed and strength to go sideline-to-sideline chasing down backs and shedding blocks be there? Keep in mind, outside of Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, a pair of 2011 third-round picks who finished last season on injured reserve, there's not much talent or depth at the defensive tackle position on the Panthers' roster. That could put more of the run-stopping burden on Beason's shoulders.
3. An escalating base salary in 2013 could jeopardize Beason's roster spot. Beason is earning $1.25 million in base salary this season with a cap number of $5.5 million in the second year of a five-year, $50-million contract extension. Next season, Beason's salary jumps to $5.25 million and his cap number reaches $9.5 million. Of the $5.25 million in base salary, $3.75 million is guaranteed for injury only, meaning the Panthers could part ways with Beason if he's not the same Pro Bowl player he was when he signed that contract.