Eight-year veteran tight end Freddie Jones, one of the top offensive players left in the unrestricted free-agent pool, has signed with the Carolina Panthers. Terms of the contract were not immediately available.
Jones, 30, played the past three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, after spending the first five years of his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers. He had signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in the spring of 2002.
Although his production has slipped the past few years, Jones provides a strong tight end presence for the Panthers' passing game. The trick will be fitting him into a Dan Henning-designed offense, in which the tight end typically is not a receiving threat.
During Henning's 25 years as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach or head coach, tight ends have caught 30 or more passes in a season just four times. Jones has averaged 50.5 catches per season, with a career-best of 71 catches in 2000.
Under Henning's schemes the past three seasons, Panthers starting tight ends have averaged only 23.3 receptions a season. The Panthers' leading receiver at tight end in 2004, Kris Magnum, had 34 catches but did not play much on third down, when Henning prefers to use three wideouts. Magnum is noted far more for his blocking than his receiving skills. Mike Seidman, for whom the Panthers coaches had great hope when they selected him in the third round of the 2003 draft, has only 18 receptions in two seasons.
Jones has posted more than 40 catches during all but one season during his career and has registered 50 catches four times. Since notching 71 catches in 2000, Jones' production has slipped some, but he still averaged 44.8 catches in the ensuing four seasons. Perhaps more concerning is that Jones, who early in his career was one of the few tight ends in the NFL with great deep speed, has averaged just 9.4 yards per catch the past four seasons.
Jones, a second-round pick of the Chargers in 1997, has appeared in 123 career games with 112 starts. He has 404 receptions for 4,232 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.