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Keyshawn, Panthers close to agreement

(March 23, 2006) -- The Carolina Panthers closed in on a deal with free-agent receiver Keyshawn Johnson that would give the team a complement to All-Pro receiver Steve Smith and perhaps the final piece to get them back to the Super Bowl.

Johnson, who was released last week by the Dallas Cowboys, spent the entire day meeting with coaches and team officials in Charlotte, then dined with team general manager Marty Hurney.

"Nothing is signed, but it looks like we're close to terms," Hurney said. "Hopefully we can get the language done here and have something to announce (March 24)."

The Panthers were discussing a four-year deal with Johnson.

Should it work out, the Panthers would get the second receiving threat they so badly needed last year during their postseason run. With Smith as their lone big playmaker, the Seattle Seahawks easily beat Carolina by clamping down on him and bringing the Panthers' offense to a standstill.

Now they'll have Johnson to take some of the attention away from Smith, who lobbied publicly earlier today on a Charlotte radio station for Johnson's signing.

Johnson, 33, visited earlier in the week with the New York Giants but reportedly turned down a deal. He also had planned a visit with Seattle as part of his free-agency tour.

The signing of the former No. 1 overall pick represents a shift for the Panthers, who have made a conscious effort to run a problem-free program since John Fox became head coach in 2002. After a series of off-the-field problems, including the Rae Carruth murder trial, the team has shied away from signing players who have been disruptive with other teams or represent a potential locker-room distraction.

Johnson left the New York Jets and Tampa Bay after wearing out his welcome with those teams. But he did not appear to have any significant problems during two years with Dallas and head coach Bill Parcells.

"We've done a lot of research, believe me," Hurney said. "We don't have any concerns. The more you spend time with Keyshawn, the less you think of that as a concern."

Smith was a breakout star for the Panthers last season after leading or tying for the league lead in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. But the Panthers were unable to develop a second receiver to keep teams from keying on him.

Johnson would give the Panthers a reliable possession receiver and a good downfield blocker to complement the speedy Smith.

"He is a very talented receiver," Hurney said. "He's smart, he's tough and he's a physical receiver. He's been extremely productive. He brings experience and has a Super Bowl ring and plays with a great passion for the game.

"I know he wants to win another Super Bowl, and hopefully that will be here."

Johnson is representing himself because his agent, Jerome Stanley, is serving a one-year suspension imposed by the NFL Players Association disciplinary committee.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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