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Punter Andy Lee: Trade to Panthers is 'biggest blessing from God I ever had'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Andy Lee got the old speech -- "We've got good news and bad news" -- on Monday when he entered the office of Sashi Brown, the vice president of football operations for the Cleveland Browns.

The bad news, Brown told the three-time Pro Bowl punter, was that the Browns had traded him.

The good news: He was going to the Carolina Panthers.

Lee smiled. He hasn't stopped smiling since.

He didn't say it, but you could tell the 34-year-old Lee is still waiting for somebody to explain exactly what the bad news is. He went from a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2002, and hasn't had a winning season since 2007, to a team that just went to the Super Bowl.

But that's only a small reason the move is good news for Lee. He has come to a city where his wife and two sons, Ryan (6) and Adam (4), already were living during the season. It's also a city where he lost his daughter Madelyn a year and a half ago, eight days after she was born at a hospital 2.5 miles from Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers' home in Charlotte. That loss inspired to the Lee family to start Madelyn's Fund, whose purpose is to help other families that have lost a child.

"Honestly, being here is the biggest blessing from God I ever had," Lee said Tuesday after his first practice with Carolina. "I'm with my family again. I'm with my wife. I'm with my kids. We're starting this fund. We're still grieving from that a year and a half ago over the loss of our daughter.

"It's just awesome to be with them and not having to be apart from them."

The trade represents good news. Good news. Good news.

Lee is so happy that he used the word awesome at least six times during a five-minute interview.

"It's been an awesome couple of days," Lee said.

It was a good news, good news situation for the Panthers, as well.

Sure, they had to give up a 2018 fourth-round pick and punter Kasey Redfern to get Lee. But the Panthers picked up a seventh-round pick in 2017 and will enter the season with one of the top punters in NFL history, statistically speaking, instead of one who hadn't kicked in a regular-season game.

Lee ranks ninth all time in punts inside the 20 (325) and eighth all time in net average (39.5).

As Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said, "That was a huge box to check. ... To have a team like this, and to go into the season with a rookie punter, is really rolling the bones."

Back to the good news for Lee. The No. 8 he switched to in 2015 to honor the eight days his daughter lived before an infection took her life was available.

Since he'll be living with his family during the season, Lee will be able to help his wife more with Madelyn's Fund.

"We're financially stable, so we never thought about money at that point," Lee said of the expenses that come with losing a child. "But if you lose a kid and are worried about money, that's the wrong thing to think about. So we're going to try to help families out and get that ball [rolling]."

Lee is also in a better position to get a football autographed for his son Ryan -- by NFL MVP and Panthers QB Cam Newton.

"I’ve never watched an NFL game [as a fan] before until last year. I brought my son ... to the Seattle-Panthers game," Lee said of the divisional-round playoff game in Charlotte last January (Carolina won 31-24). "It was weird to watch an NFL game from the stands, because obviously I've only ever played in them. So it was fun to be around the atmosphere and see what this city is all about.

"It’s kind of funny. The first thing my wife said he said [after his son learned of the trade] was, 'Do you think [Andy] can get a football signed by Cam Newton for me?'"

Ryan has been a Carolina fan for a while. He has a No. 88 Greg Olsen jersey that he sometimes wears to Country Day School during game weeks.

Lee didn't grow up a Panthers fan but grew up two hours from the stadium in Westminster, South Carolina, where he played football, baseball and basketball.

He was a stone's throw from Clemson University, where his parents had season tickets when he was a kid. Some locals still question the Tigers for not offering Lee a scholarship.

He instead went to Pittsburgh, which -- through a strange twist of fate -- brought him to Bank of America Stadium for the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl against Virginia.

"Honestly, I didn't grow up an NFL fan," Lee said.

But Lee is a fan of everything about this trade. He can't wait to take the short drive up Providence Road to Queens Road to Morehead Street every day to work.

He'll also have an easier time understanding why his son chose to wear an Olsen jersey while Lee was playing for the Browns.

"At the time I was, 'Why are you so into the Panthers?'" Lee said. "It's the atmosphere around here. They got the bug last year. Now we can all have the bug."