|Wednesday, March 5
Updated: March 24, 3:57 PM ET
Panthers agree to deals with Delhomme, Peete
By Len Pasquarelli
Let the competition begin.
The Carolina Panthers doubled their pleasure Wednesday, and set the stage for what figures to be a compelling battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot, by agreeing to contract terms with a pair of potential starters.
Longtime veteran Rodney Peete, whose 14 starts for the Panthers in 2002 were two more than he had in the previous four seasons combined, agreed to a three-year deal. Unrestricted free agent Jake Delhomme, ardently sought by several teams despite a lack of playing time, will sign a two-year deal.
The deals likely end the Carolina tenure of Chris Weinke, the team's starter in 2001 and No. 1 on the depth chart in camp last year. While team officials have indicated that the incumbent Peete will arrive at camp as the starter, it is clear that Delhomme was acquired to provide him a younger challenger, and to perhaps supplant him by the start of the season.
"I've been waiting my time because I truly felt I am ready to be a starter,'' Delhomme told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in Breaux Bridge, La. "If I didn't, I would have stayed here. There is a comfort for me here. I am two hours away from home, the wife and I love the city and we have a newborn. But I am ready to be a starter.''
"He's a good young quarterback and he's very accurate,'' general manager Marty Hurney said. "He seems to bring some veteran leadership skills and some intangibles. He just hasn't had much of a chance yet. But when he's played, we've liked what we've seen.''
In four seasons in New Orleans, the 28-year-old Delhomme appeared in just six games and started only two of them. But scouts for several teams seemed to be impressed with his arm strength, moxie, and playmaking skills, and he was a hot commodity in the early free-agent market.
The feeling is that Delhomme can be a starter with the right team.
The former Louisiana-Lafayette star rejected an offer from Dallas and chose the Panthers' proposal, which will pay him about $4 million for two years. Delhomme has completed 50 of 86 passes for 634 yards, and he has three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a passer rating of 68.7.
Peete, 36, will sign a three-year, $4 million contract that includes a signing bonus of $500,000. In addition to the signing bonus, Peete will collect a roster bonus of $500,000. The base salaries for each of the three years of the new deal are $1 million.
The contract, which takes Peete off the unrestricted free-agent market, also includes "makeable" incentives of up to $1.5 million in 2003 and about $2.5 million for each of the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Carolina officials have emphasized the entire offseason they wanted to retain Peete, a 14-year veteran. Hurney reiterated that at the combine workouts and also said the Panthers were not likely to use their first-round draft choice on a quarterback prospect in 2003.
Peete won the starting job from Weinke just before the beginning of the '02 regular season and played especially well at the outset of the campaign. He cobbled together seven victories, quite an accomplishment considering that the Panthers won just one game in 2001.
The former Southern California star completed 223 of 381 passes for 2,630 yards, with 15 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 77.4. All of those numbers represent career highs. Perhaps more important than statistics, though, was the fact that Peete brought veteran leadership and stability to a young team.
"Rodney has shown what he means to this football team and has proven that he is a very solid quarterback,'' Fox said. "He is a leader in the locker room and won the respect of players and coaches last year.''
Carolina represents the sixth NFL team with which Peete has played and his resume includes stops in Detroit (1989-93), Dallas (1994), Philadelphia (1995-98), Washington (1999) and Oakland (2000-2001).
Peete's career numbers include 1,339 completions in 2,335 attempts for 16,316 yards, with 76 touchdown passes and 92 interceptions. He has played in 101 games and started 86 of them.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.