Charles Johnson agrees with Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers weren't about to let their top free agent Charles Johnson get away, even if it meant shelling out big bucks.

The Panthers persuaded Johnson, their prized defensive end, to agree to a contract worth $72 million over six years, including a $30 million signing bonus. The team confirmed the deal Tuesday night and Johnson said he plans to sign the deal Friday.

"The Panthers told me the whole time they were going to come after me hard," Johnson said. "I had to see it to believe, but they did."

Johnson said he was "blown away" by Carolina's offer and the money convinced him to choose Carolina over Atlanta and Denver.

"Could you have turned that down?" Johnson said of the contract with a laugh.

The Panthers put the full-court press on Johnson.

General manager Marty Hurney, coach Ron Rivera and several members of the defensive staff flew to Miami on Monday night in an effort to make sure Johnson wouldn't get away.

"A lot of people in my family were rooting for me to sign with Atlanta because it was closer to home and they could come see me play," said Johnson, a native of Hawkinsville, Ga. "But I think they understand."

Johnson had a breakout season for the Panthers in 2010 with 11½ sacks in his first year as a starter. He had a combined 10 sacks his previous two seasons playing behind veteran ends Julius Peppers and Tyler Brayton.

Johnson said he was impressed at how important the Panthers made him feel by bringing a good portion of the coaching staff along.

"They showed so much respect for me, I wanted to show it back," Johnson said.

Aside from the money, Johnson said his love of the Charlotte community played a role in his decision.

"Once you are settled in somewhere you get comfortable," Johnson said. "Money aside, it wasn't a hard decision for me to leave because I am tied into Charlotte."

Johnson said the first thing he plans to do with some of the signing bonus is take care of his family members, most of whom still live in Georgia.

He said the Falcons initially showed a lot of interest, but backed off once they learned of Carolina's offer.

Johnson can sign his contract Friday, but can't join the Panthers' practices until Aug. 4 under new league rules. Until then, he will remain in Miami and continue to train.

"To say I'm thankful doesn't begin to describe it," Johnson said. "I'm so excited. I'm ready to get back to football."