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Updated Feb. 22, 2011 @ 4:44 p.m. ET
Carolina's franchise-tag decision came down to C Ryan Kalil and DE Charles Johnson — RB DeAngelo Williams was third in the pecking order — and the Panthers confirmed Tuesday that Kalil had been franchised.
Johnson and Williams are due to become free agents March 4, and both will likely draw interest from other teams, which could drive up the price for the Panthers to keep them.
Tagging Kalil keeps him from becoming a free agent. He will receive a one-year tender worth the average of the top five highest-paid offensive linemen, and it's expected Kalil will make about $10 million in 2011 under the tag. Kalil has appeared in each of the last two Pro Bowls and he'll turn 26 in March, so he has prime years ahead of him and it was no surprise that the Panthers ultimately chose him after considering all their options.
The PFW spin
There was a very strong case to be made for keeping Johnson off the open market, which is why this decision had to be difficult for GM Marty Hurney, but Kalil was the right choice. A one-year, $10 million deal is a lot for a center. Placing the tag on any of the three players we've mentioned would have been expensive, though. Johnson would have cost an estimated $12.9 million under the tag, and Williams would have made $9.5 million.
Johnson finished tied for seventh in the league in sacks last season (11½). It was his first year as a full-time starter; he won't turn 25 until July. Williams is only two years removed from a season in which he rushed for 18 touchdowns, but he's dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons, and Carolina has decent depth at running back in Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson and Tyrell Sutton.
Kalil would be the toughest to replace, and giving him a chance to walk would have been a risk not worth taking. The left side of Carolina's offensive line is settled with OLT Jordan Gross and OLG Travelle Wharton, who missed the final seven games of last season with turf toe. The right side, however, is not as stable. There could be an open competition for the starting spot at right guard, and ORT Jeff Otah hasn't played a down since Dec. 13, 2009, as injuries sent him to injured reserve late that season and kept him out for all of 2010.
Letting Kalil test the market and leaving question marks on the O-line from center to right tackle is not a situation the team should want to confront Jimmy Clausen or a new starting quarterback with in 2011.
At defensive end, where the Panthers may have to replace Johnson, they are trying to develop Everette Brown, a second-round pick in '09. He may be ready for a bigger role, and Carolina will get a chance to select one of the top prospects in the draft, Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers, with the first overall pick.
Hurney made a tough call Tuesday, but the best place to put the tag was on Kalil.