In their latest effort to secure a proven, complementary pass catcher to pair with star wide receiver Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers have turned to a familiar face, making significant progress toward reaching a contract agreement with veteran free agent Muhsin Muhammad.
Released by the Bears last week, Muhammad played the first nine seasons of his career (1996-2004) with the Panthers before signing with Chicago in 2005. After his release, the 12-year veteran generated interest from four teams, but quickly focused on rejoining the Panthers, given his familiarity with the franchise and the fact he still owns a home in the Charlotte area.
"There is still some work to be done," agent Joel Segal said on Tuesday afternoon. "But we've made a lot of progress and Moose is very much looking forward to finishing a deal with the Panthers. That's what both sides are working toward and we're definitely moving forward."
Muhammad, 34, could re-sign with the Panthers within the next day or two.
Carolina general manager Marty Hurney confirmed mutual interest.
"Hopefully we can get something done in the next day or so," Hurney said.
The addition of Muhammad should provide the Panthers with a wide receiver who, despite his age, will be capable of reducing some of the double-team coverages that Smith faces on a weekly basis. Typical of the disproportionate distribution in the Carolina passing game over the past few seasons, Smith had 87 receptions in 2007, and no other Panthers' wide receiver posted more than 38 catches.
Only once in the past four seasons -- in 2006, when Smith had 83 receptions and
Keyshawn Johnson had 70 -- have the Panthers had two wide receivers with more than 50 catches each.
Even in a down year for Muhammad in 2007, the veteran had 40 catches for 570 yards and three touchdowns. The receptions represented the fewest for Muhammad since 1997, his second season in the NFL, but that total was affected by the lack of consistency that the Bears experienced at the quarterback position, where they used three different starters.
Bringing Muhammad back for a second stint should also give the Panthers another veteran presence in a locker room said to have lacked leadership in 2007.
Carolina officials are hopeful that second-year wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, a second-round choice in 2007, will advance sufficiently in 2008 to challenge for a starting role. If that's the case, Muhammad could end up being the No. 3 receiver, working primarily out of the slot. But if Jarrett stumbles again, after appearing in only seven games as a rookie, when he registered six catches for 73 yards, Muhammad could claim the starting spot opposite Smith.
Muhammad represents a big target, works the middle of the field well, and has always been a productive red zone receiver.
In 172 appearances, including 160 starts, Muhammad has 742 catches for 9,934 yards and 56 touchdowns. The former Michigan State standout, selected by the Panthers in the second round of the 1996 draft, has seven seasons with 60 or more receptions and three years with 1,000 yards receiving.
Muhammad's best season was in 2004, with the Panthers, when he had 93 catches for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. That season earned Muhammad the second Pro Bowl berth of his career. He earlier went to the Pro Bowl in 1999.
The durable Muhammad, who has missed only 20 games in 12 seasons, has started in 14 or more contests in all but one of the past 10 seasons.
"Moose is certainly adamant about trying to do a deal here," Segal said.
Segal indicated he's had talks with other teams he would not identify.
Carolina is also expected this week to sign Stephen Davis to a one-day contract so he can retire a Panther. Davis has not played in the NFL since 2006.