Charles Godrey sacrifices for Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NFL teams attempting to reach the top level or stay there must have players willing to sacrifice, whether it's on the field or in the pocketbook.

Nobody epitomizes both better for the Carolina Panthers than Charles Godfrey.

In this world of me, me, me, Godfrey has been about team, team, team since Carolina selected him in the third round of the 2008 draft. When they asked him to move from cornerback, where he played for most of his college career at Iowa, he did.

When they recently asked him to take a $4.25 million salary cut from the five-year, $27.5 million deal he got in 2011 after excelling at free and strong safety, he did. When they asked him to move from safety to cornerback as he continued to rehabilitate the Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season after two games, he did.

Godfrey's response?

He's blessed to be able to play two positions.

When asked about putting the team first, he responded, "It's always been like that for me. ... I came here with the mentality that I want to win and I see that change helping us do that, so it's no problem for me.''

This is why linebacker Luke Kuechly, the NFL defensive player of the year, talked with great enthusiasm about having the 28-year-old Godfrey back even before it was announced his deal had been restructured.

"A guy that has been very constant, is going to work hard, he knows what's going on and I just generally enjoy being around Charles,'' Kuechly said.

Godfrey's presence as a leader has been obvious during offseason workouts. Unable to participate in team drills until minicamp, he was the first defensive back congratulating others when they made a good play or the first offering advice when things went bad.

He's taken the high road and never looked back.

That doesn't mean it's been easy. When I asked if it was tough accepting the pay cut and position change, he responded politely, "No, and yes.''

"I'm not going to sit here and say it's not about the money, because I have people I have to take care of at home,'' said Godfrey, whose base salary dropped from $5 million to $750,000 in 2014. "I understand their point as far as me coming back from an injury. That's part of the deal.

"At the same time, I'm still here. I'm still a team player. I still want to put our defense in the best position and be the best out there.''



If he fully recovers as expected, Godfrey will make the Panthers better defensively and help the team sustain the success it had a year ago in winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record. He or rookie Bene Benwikere will make a solid replacement for Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota in free agency, at nickel back.

Godfrey also will be given every opportunity to compete for one of the starting corner jobs, likely the position held by undrafted rookie Melvin White last season.

At 5-11 and 210 pounds, Godfrey could be a physical corner in the mold of Seattle's Richard Sherman who helps take the defense from No. 2 to 1.

"I really like what we are getting,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "We have a luxury in terms of moving him to corner, and if it works out it could be a very good thing for him.''

The Panthers have that luxury because they signed in free agency veterans Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud to play safety. They had no choice not knowing whether Godfrey would fully recover and knowing how important safety is to this defense.

That Godfrey appears on target to be 100 percent by training camp is a bonus.

"We're pulling for him, we really are,'' Rivera said.

That's because coaches understand the importance of having players that sacrifice.