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Panthers release Buckner, Davis, Smart

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (March 1, 2006) -- The Carolina Panthers trimmed its payroll by releasing defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, running back Stephen Davis and kick returner Rod Smart.

The Panthers are still slightly over a salary cap that is projected to be about $95 million, pending developments in the ongoing labor talks between the NFL and the players union. They can reach that number through more cuts, or restructuring other contracts.

The moves Carolina made were obvious, but not easy for anyone in the organization.

"Each of these men played an important role in the success we have enjoyed here," coach John Fox said. "It is not easy saying goodbye to them. They were productive players and their contributions played a major role in our going to the Super Bowl in 2003 and returning to the NFC Championship Game last season."

Davis was Fox's first major signing as head coach. He brought Davis to Carolina after seven productive seasons with the Washington Redskins and Davis instantly became the Panthers' featured back.

He became the workhorse of the offense, setting a team record in 2003 with 1,444 yards rushing. But he missed most of last season with a knee injury that led to microfracture surgery and put his career in doubt.

Although Davis returned at the start of last season and ran for a team-record 12 TDs, he gained only 3.1 yards a carry. He eventually lost his starting job to DeShaun Foster and the Panthers placed him on injured reserve in December.

In Buckner, the Panthers lose a 13-year veteran and locker-room leader. He signed with Carolina as a free agent in 2001 and set a team record for games started at defensive tackle with 65. He finished with 226 tackles and 14½ sacks in five years with Carolina.

But letting him go is risky: defensive tackle Kris Jenkins has missed most of the past two seasons with injury, and the tandem of Jordan Carstens and Kindal Moorehead are a long way away from Buckner's caliber.

Smart -- known as "He Hate Me" during his year playing in the XFL -- was Carolina's kickoff returner for three years, but lost his job this season to Jamal Robertson.

The Panthers still have a lot of work to do to get under the cap and at a number that helps them negotiate with free agents when the signing period begins March 3. They would like to re-sign linebacker Will Witherspoon, safety Marlon McCree and center Jeff Mitchell, but financial concerns could make it difficult and Hurney said he's not close to making a deal with any of them.

Hurney can begin by looking at the contracts of several veterans, including safety Mike Minter, defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker, who is due a roster bonus this week.

Others due money this week are linebackers Brandon Short and Chris Draft.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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