I read Darin Gantt's very interesting breakdown of the Panthers' three possibilities for "franchising" in today's newspaper, and here's what I think:
Franchise Charles Johnson.
If the choices are Johnson, center Ryan Kalil and RB DeAngelo Williams and I'm the Panthers, I certainly want to keep all three and hope I can do so.
But if I can only make one of those a near-certainty by franchising him, I'll go with Johnson and here are my 3 reasons why.
1) He plays such a significant position. Having a pass-rushing defensive end is huge, and if you teamed him with Auburn DT Nick Fairley as the No.1 pick, that'd be a heck of a twosome to start your defensive line with. Johnson had 11.5 sacks last season and even though he knew he was playing in a contract year, so what? He still had 11.5 sacks. I don't think he will suddenly get fat and lazy once he gets paid.
Incidentally, I think the Panthers should either draft Fairley or trade the No.1 pick, as I've written before -- I like Fairley a touch more than Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. But that assumes Panthers keep Johnson, so they already have a guy similar to Bowers on line.
2) As for DeAngelo, I love the way that guy plays. Tough, strong, effective. But Carolina is blessed with two other very good backs in Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. I still think DeAngelo as a runner is the best of all of them, but it's fairly close at this point. It's the one position Carolina has extreme depth, so I wouldn't franchise DeAngelo -- would just take the chance on signing him back in the open market.
3) As for Kalil, he's a smart, strong player. But I think Carolina can get him back -- Kalil has always struck me as a reasonable guy, and like Jordan Gross, I think he would ultimately like to stay in Carolina and will make that happen. Could be wrong, but if they lose someone it's better that it's a center than a pass-rushing DE.
Put it this way. If these three players all hit the open market, Johnson is going to draw the most interest. That's not the only reason you would use a franchise tag on someone, but it gives you a sense of what other teams are thinking.
Bottom line: Try hard to keep all three of these guys, but franchise Charles Johnson to make sure you keep him.