Carolina tag plans becoming clear

For the second straight year, the Carolina Panthers appear ready to let one of the best players in the relatively short history of the franchise walk into free agency.

Adam Schefter reports what had been expected. The Panthers will not place the franchise tag on running back DeAngelo Williams. Instead, they’ll use it in the next day or two on either defensive end Charles Johnson or center Ryan Kalil.

There have been signs of this for several months. Although Williams is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, the Panthers are more willing to risk losing him than they are Johnson and Kalil. Williams is 28 and was injured much of last season.

The Panthers have another feature back in Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson showed promise last season. Tagging Williams would have cost the Panthers about $10 million. Not tagging Williams isn’t necessarily a final declaration that he won’t stay with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2006. The Panthers still may make an offer to re-sign Williams if a labor agreement gets done. But owner Jerry Richardson has made it clear the Panthers won’t re-sign any of their veterans until the league and its players have a new labor deal.

The Panthers let defensive end Julius Peppers walk into free agency last year and he promptly signed with Chicago.

Johnson took over Peppers’ place as the team’s top pass rusher and had 11.5 sacks last season. Although tagging him could cost more than $12 million, Johnson appears to be the likely target for the franchise label. Kalil has been a Pro Bowler, but his value as a center might not be worthy of the franchise tag. For offensive linemen, the tag is expected to be somewhere around $10 million and that number is skewed because tackles generally make much more than centers and guards.