Kemoeatu headed to Carolina
CHARLOTTE, N.C. » Kahuku graduate Ma'ake Kemoeatu completed the journey from undrafted free agent to NFL millionaire yesterday, signing a five-year, $23 million deal with the Carolina Panthers.
The 6-foot-5, 350-pound defensive tackle out of Utah will receive $8 million in bonus money as part of the contract agreed to on the first day of free agency.
The Panthers made Kemoeatu a priority because they waived veteran tackle Brentson Buckner last week and Kris Jenkins missed most of the past two seasons with injury.
Kemoeatu spent the first four years of his career with the Ravens, totalling 92 tackles (69 solo) and four sacks while missing only four games. Last season he had one sack among his 40 tackles (30 solo).
Also yesterday, the Panthers re-signed running back DeShaun Foster to a three-year, $14.5 million contract that finally makes him their star running back.
Foster, who spent most of the last three seasons playing in the shadow of Stephen Davis, agreed to the deal late Friday night. The deal was completed about an hour before the start of free agency and removed the transition tag the Panthers had placed on Foster two weeks ago.
"Bringing DeShaun back was always very important to us," Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said yesterday. "He's a playmaker, he is a guy that defenses have to account for, and he's our kind of person. There was no doubt we wanted him back."
Completing both deals was good news to the Panthers, who appear to be on the verge of losing at least two of their top free agents.
Carolina has been unable to reach a deal with linebacker Will Witherspoon, and safety Marlon McCree had a Saturday visit scheduled with the San Diego Chargers.
Hurney wasn't feeling optimistic about re-signing either player.
"Anytime you don't have a deal when free agency begins, you have to assume that a player is gone," Hurney said. "Sometimes you are wrong, and the player decides to stay. But at this point, the chances of re-signing them are not very good."
The Panthers took a precautionary move in one case, signing punter Micah Knorr just in case they lose Jason Baker to free agency. Baker led the NFC in net punting average last season at 38.9 yards per punt, and his agent has indicated he plans to test the market.
Knorr, who spent the 2005 preseason with the New York Jets, did not play last season.
Carolina could also find itself in the market for a backup quarterback if Chris Weinke opts to try his luck with another team. Weinke was the starter in 2001, when the Panthers went 1-15, but lost his job to Rodney Peete the next season. Jake Delhomme was signed a year later, and Weinke has no chance of passing him on the depth chart.
The Panthers may also have to look for a backup running back to Foster, who has been bothered by injuries most of his career.
Although he's proven when healthy he can carry an offense, he has yet to play a full 16-game season. He missed his entire rookie year with a knee injury, had various nicks and bruises in 2003, then missed a chunk of '04 with a broken collarbone.
Although he was stuck behind Davis most of that time, Foster finally passed him as the Panthers' featured back late last year and ran them deep into the playoffs. But just as he was positioning himself for a huge payday in his next contract, Foster broke his leg in a playoff victory over Chicago and missed the NFC championship game.
The injury likely hurt his value on the open market, but Hurney said the Panthers believed Foster never wanted to leave Carolina.
"He made it very clear from (team owner) Mr. (Jerry) Richardson and below that he wanted to be here," Hurney said. "He never indicated to us otherwise. And that's very important to us, a guy who wants to be here."