CHARLOTTE -- It doesn't take long for a team'sfocus to turn ahead to the weeks and months to come, and for beginningto assemble the roster for the next season.
That process beganthis week, as the Panthers signed several players to future contracts,including six members of the practice squad with which they closed theseason. Like all future contracts, they do not kick in until after theentire season is completed, meaning that they are not officially on thePanthers' offseason roster until then.
DECORI BIRMINGHAM, RUNNING BACK
Birminghamacquired a measure of Panthers fame for his performance in thepreseason-opening overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 9,when he carried the football 17 times for 70 yards, including 33 yards on seven carries in sudden death. It marked his first game-time action in over three years.
Hefinished second on the Panthers in preseason rushing last August,picking up 117 yards on 29 carries. Only DeAngelo Williams had more,gaining 188.
The Arkansas product spent the entire regular seasonon Carolina's practice squad after being waived by the Panthers atthe final cutdown on Aug. 30. In previous seasons, he has toiled onthe practice squads of the New England Patriots, New York Jets, SanFrancisco 49ers, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts without onceseeing the field during the regular season. The good health of thePanthers' running backs meant that a promotion to the 53-man roster wasnot in the cards, but he'll now have another offseason to work towardhis long-held goal of cracking a regular-season roster.
CASPER BRINKLEY, DEFENSIVE END
Oneof two undrafted free-agent rookies signed by the Panthers last yearwho managed to stick on Carolina's practice squad, Brinkley rejoinedthe practice squad on Sept. 23 after being waived by the Panthers atthe first roster deadline on Aug. 25.
Like Birmingham, Brinkleyshone against the Colts, making two key plays that helped keep theColts off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter of what would be a 23-20Panthers win. The first came with 4:05 remaining in regulation, whenhe sacked Indianapolis quarterback Quinn Gray for a 10-yard loss,putting the Colts into a second-and-20 hole that led to a punt twoplays later.
The second came in overtime, when Brinkley stoppedColts running back Chad Simpson for no gain on fourth-and-1 at theCarolina 34-yard-line. That set up the game-winning drive which waspowered by the afore-mentioned Birmingham, who gained 30 of the 37yards Carolina picked up to move into range for John Kasay's 46-yardgame-winning field goal.
JOE FIELDS, SAFETY
TheSyracuse product spent the entire regular season with Carolina afterbeing waived at the final cutdown following the preseason. Aside fromthe 24 hours after he was waived, Fields has been with the Pantherssince signing as an undrafted free agent last May 2.
Fieldslogged six tackles and two assists during the preseason, including apair of tackles on kickoffs during the preseason finale at Pittsburgh,when he played extensively. He also logged a fourth-quarterinterception at the Carolina 5-yard-line against the Colts on Aug. 9,stopping a drive that helped preserve a 20-20 tie.
KEVIN McMAHAN, WIDE RECEIVER
Addedto the practice squad on Dec. 16, the 6-foot-2, 192-pounder was on thepractice squads of the New York Giants and Kansas City Chiefs in 2007and spent much of the 2008 offseason with the Chiefs before beingwaived on Aug. 30. He remained out of football for the following 15weeks until the Panthers picked him up.
McMahan, a productof Maine, was the "Mr. Irrelevant" of the 2006 NFL Draft, feted byNewport Beach, Calif. after the Oakland Raiders selected him with thedraft's final pick.
JONATHAN PALMER, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
The6-foot-4, 336-pound Palmer joined Carolina's practice squad on Sept. 30and remained there for the rest of the season. A season earlier, hespent time on the practice squads of the Philadelphia Eagles andPittsburgh Steelers before being signed to the Raiders' 53-man rosterfor the final week of the regular season.
Oakland waived him lastJuly 17, sending him through a whistle-stop two months that witnessed atraining-camp stint with the New York Giants and 16 days in thepreseason with the Cleveland Browns before being waived again on Aug.30. Carolina signed him exactly a month later.
Palmer started 16 games as a collegian at Auburn -- 14 at right tackle, one at right guard and one at center.
LORENZO WILLIAMS, DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Williams,a 6-foot, 310-pound rookie from Missouri, was a late-season addition tothe practice squad, first joining the Panthers on Dec. 23, three daysafter rookie Nick Hayden had been promoted from the practice squad tothe active roster as the Panthers were grappling with a tidal wave ofinjuries to their tackles that eventually claimed Maake Kemoeatu fortwo games, Damione Lewis for one and Gary Gibson for the season.
Ayear earlier, Williams capped a solid college career by leading Mizzouin sacks with 6.5 as the Tigers qualified for their first New Year'sDay bowl in nearly four decades. He started 39 of the 50 games heplayed there but went undrafted the following April, joining theBaltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. The Ravens waived him atthe close of the preseason.
THE NEWCOMERS ... are linebacker Jeremy Leman, defensive tackle Patrick McDonald and fullback Nehemiah Broughton.
Leman,who enjoyed a highly decorated college career at Illinois, is a6-foot-2, 240-pounder who was an undrafted free agent last springbefore being signed by the Minnesota Vikings, who waived him at theconclusion of the preseason. During his four years with the FightingIllini, Leman played three linebacker slots, including the 2006 and2007 seasons at middle linebacker. His senior season saw him earnAll-America and All-Big Ten honors.
McDonald comes to thePanthers from the Canadian Football League, where he played 14 gamesfor the Calgary Stampeders the past two seasons after spending part ofthe 2007 offseason with the New Orleans Saints after going undraftedout of the University of Alberta. The 6-foot-2, 265-pound defensivelineman also has experience as a long snapper. McDonald, who turns 27on Feb. 20, was a third-round pick of the Stampeders in the 2007 CFLDraft.
For McDonald's Stampeders biography, click here.
Broughton,a product of The Citadel and native of North Charleston, S.C., playedin six games for the Washington Redskins in 2005 and 2006 beforespending the 2007 campaign on injured reserve with a torn kneeligament. He was waived by the Redskins at the final cutdown lastsummer.