Panthers, DT Lewis agree on three-year deal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers began what is expected to be a busy offseason on Saturday by coming to terms with defensive tackle Damione Lewis on a three-year contract.

Lewis, a key reserve who led the Panthers' disappointing defensive line with 3½ sacks last season, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the month. Lewis' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he expects to complete the deal on Monday.

Keeping Lewis provides depth on the line, which could look much different next season after Carolina had only 23 sacks, second fewest in the league. Starting defensive tackle Kris Jenkins was put on the trading block last offseason and his future in Carolina is uncertain. Starting defensive end Mike Rucker has decided not to retire, but turns 33 this month and will become an unrestricted free agent.

Lewis, a seven-year veteran from Miami, played in 15 games last season and had 32 tackles and seven quarterback hurries.

"He definitely wants to stay in Carolina. He's very happy there," Rosenhaus said. "I've always had success working with the Panthers."

The Panthers could be making several moves over the next week. On Monday, the waiver wire reopens and the Panthers could release several players, including disappointing quarterback David Carr and injury-prone linebacker Dan Morgan. Rosenhaus, who also represents Morgan, said he had no update on his status.

Carolina's main offseason priority is re-signing right tackle Jordan Gross. If the Panthers can't reach a deal by Feb. 21, they can put the franchise tag on Gross to prevent him from becoming a free agent. That would mean Gross would get a one-year deal worth $7.455 million.

"It's always an option, but we're not at a point where we've made any decisions," general manager Marty Hurney said.

Starting left tackle Travelle Wharton is also set to become an unrestricted free agent. Hurney said they've been in discussions with several players' agents, but provided no other details.

Meanwhile, quarterback Jake Delhomme's rehabilitation from right elbow reconstructive surgery has progressed to where he has begun throwing a Nerf ball. Delhomme is hopeful to be ready for the start of training camp.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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