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Agent says Panthers bargaining in bad faith

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) -The Carolina Panthers are taking a stand against a new kind of NFL contract, and their protest could lead to a lengthy holdout for first-round pick Jon Beason.

Following a court ruling earlier this year that made it risky for teams to offer so-called second-year "option bonuses," the Panthers are refusing to offer one to Beason, said his agent, Michael Huyghue. He called it the main stumbling block between the club and Beason, who entered the third day of his holdout Monday.

Huyghue told The Associated Press the Panthers initially offered a contract with the option bonus, only to yank it off the table 24 hours later. He claims the team is negotiating in bad faith, since most of the other first-round picks who have signed received deals that include an option bonus.

General manager Marty Hurney, who said Friday the two sides were "miles apart," declined Monday to answer questions about the impasse.

"We have said all along that we don't comment publicly on player negotiations," Hurney said. "This puts out just one version of the story."

Beason's holdout has left the Panthers thin at linebacker. Things got worse Monday morning when Na'il Diggs, who Beason was expected to replace at outside linebacker, was carted off the field with an apparent right hamstring injury.

"I don't want the negative media attention. I don't want to be the focal point," Beason, the 25th pick in the draft, told the AP in his first interview since starting his holdout. "Already having the pressure of being the first-round pick, not having the luxury of being out there, it's hurting myself."

Nine years ago, the Panthers took a similar stand. Hurney was in his first year with the Panthers as team's salary cap specialist in 1998 when Jason Peter held out in a dispute over so-called "voidable years," which allow players to cancel what's left of their contract if they reach defined performance incentives. After a 44-day absence, Peter eventually agreed to a contract without such a clause.

Hurney is apparently willing to take similar measures to set a precedent with Beason.

"They hope if they do this, they might be the only team that would never have to do option bonuses going down the road," Huyghue said.

The second-year option bonus has come to replace the traditional signing bonus in the NFL, since it's a more salary-cap friendly way to pay rookies.

Huyghue said the Panthers have instead offered a bonus in the third year, but that would be at the club's discretion and not guaranteed unless Beason meets certain performance incentives. Without a second-year option bonus, Huyghue said Beason's second-year salary would be the smallest of any first-round pick in the league.

Huyghue said the Panthers have insisted their stance against the option bonus is not a sign they fear Beason won't honor his contract. Beason doesn't have the kind of baggage that suggests he could become a problem for the Panthers, who have stressed character after a series of player arrests in the late 1990s.

"They're saying, 'Jon, this isn't about you,"' Huyghue said. "Well, it is about him because you expect him to sign this deal."

Huyghue said the option bonus is the only stumbling block. The teams are close on the total amount of guaranteed money, believed to be about $6.5 million.

But the agent acknowledges the Panthers hold the power and if they don't budge, Beason will either have to accept a deal without an option bonus or sit out the season.

Meanwhile, Beason - a linebacker from Miami - continues to work out on his own in Jacksonville, Fla.

"I just want to come in and compete. I just want a fair deal," Beason said. "Obviously, the team can structure a deal however they want to, but I just want to sign a deal that's the same (by) comparison to what everyone else got."

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