The Carolina Panthers locked up defensive tackle Kawann Short, signing the standout defensive lineman to a long-term contract on Monday.The deal keeps Short, who had 17 sacks over the last two seasons, in the middle of Carolina’s defensive line for the next five years. The contract is also worth a reported $80 million in total, with more than $40 million in money being paid out in the first two years. The $16 million annual value is a top-five number for defensive tackles in the NFL.More importantly, a week and a half before the NFL Draft started, it eliminated a position from the Panthers’ shopping list.Short was given the non-exclusive franchise tag in February. That kept the four-year veteran off the open free-agent market. The tag guaranteed Short a one-year contract with the Panthers with at least a 20 percent raise, while giving Carolina the chance to match any offers from other teams seeking to sign Short.Often, the tag is used to buy a team and player time to negotiate a longer deal, which is what the Panthers and Short were able to do. The Panthers were able to sign Short through 2021.It was just the seventh time in team history that the Panthers have used the franchise tag, but last year’s experience didn’t go anywhere near as smoothly.Cornerback Josh Norman received the tag in February 2016. Norman had recorded four interceptions during the Panthers’ Super Bowl season the year before and was the heart and soul of the Carolina secondary.The negotiations on a longer deal stalled, however.”We were at an impasse,” head coach Ron Rivera told Sports Illustrated’s MMQB. “Things weren’t happening, and the one thing we didn’t want to do is go into training camp not knowing. I think that was part of the decision.”Rather than having the fiery Norman on the team for a lame-duck season, the team rescinded the franchise tag on April 20, making Norman an unrestricted free agent. He quickly signed with the Washington Redskins.The decision essentially torpedoed the Carolina board a week before the start of the draft. The Panthers used three of their top four draft picks on cornerbacks James Bradberry (second round), Daryl Worley (third) and Zack Sanchez (fifth).In addition to forcing the team to ignore other needs in the draft, the attempt to replace Norman with quantity was doomed from the start. The rookies combined for fewer interceptions and tackles than Norman had the previous season, and the Panthers fell from ninth to 28th in the league in pass defense.Nearly a year to the day after Norman’s tag was lifted, the Panthers were able to secure Short, performing draft board addition by subtractionremoving the defensive tackle position and allowing the team to focus on other areas.After virtually ignoring one side of the ball in the 2016 draft, the Panthers will be able to focus on offense this season, with depth at offensive tackle and running back being two likely areas of concentration. On defense, Carolina may look to add a pass-rushing end.Those have been the Panthers’ priorities since draft planning began. Unlike last season, with their franchise player wrapped up for the future, those plans can remain on track for the final stretch.
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