SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Nine years after the Carolina Panthers took a stand against a new kind of NFL contract, the team is digging in again, and this time 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."
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 gave into the Panthers' demands and 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.
The Panthers' stalemate with Beason stems from a dispute between the Denver Broncos and receiver Ashley Lelie. The Broncos wanted Lelie to repay part of his option bonus after he held out of training camp last year. Lelie refused and an arbitrator ruled in favor of the player, who was eventually traded to Atlanta. The arbitrator's decision was upheld in March by a federal appeals court.
The arbitrator ruled that once a team pays the option bonus, the player doesn't not have to return that money - even if he holds out or walks away from the deal. It was a major blow to teams, who for years have been able to recoup a prorated portion of a player's traditional signing bonus in such circumstances.
"When I first started negotiating with the Panthers, Rob Rogers, their cap guy, offered to do the structure with an option bonus without giving a figure," Huyghue said. "Then they went back and reflected on it and 24 hours later they wouldn't do an option bonus, because they thought it created too much risk that would allow a player to walk out."
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."