CHARLOTTE – After parting ways with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team he had spent all eight of his NFL seasons with, wide receiver Jason Avant found himself looking for a new home.
After parting ways with their top four wide receivers in the offseason, the Carolina Panthers found themselves looking for new pass-catchers.
It seemed like a sensible match - a dependable offensive performer and an offense looking to add a dependable contributor.
Yet someone on the defensive side of the ball played a big role in bringing Avant and the Panthers together.
"Knowing Jason like I do, anytime you're looking at free agents, it's about relationships just like anything," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "I wanted to make sure he had all the information he needed to make a good, educated decision."
McDermott was on the Eagles coaching staff for Avant's first five seasons, and the two had ran into each other from time to time since McDermott joined the Panthers in 2011.
Even so, how exactly does a defensive coach play a significant role in landing an offensive player in free agency?
Because the discussions between McDermott and Avant had little to do with Xs and Os.
"He said, 'Jason, the National Football League is a business, but what's different here is that they have a fine balance between business and life,' " Avant said. "Life is about caring about people, and he said that the Carolina Panthers organization really cares about people.
"You can sit down and talk to Dave Gettleman for 20 minutes each and every day – he'll just sit down and talk to you. You don't usually see that kind of access to GMs and things like that around this league. Our head coach is in the locker room more than the other coaches I've had combined at any level. The guys around you care."
When Avant visited Carolina in the spring, he spent about an hour with McDermott.
"I just wanted to spend some time with Jason and make sure he felt comfortable about a strange place, about somewhere he didn't know about and people he didn't know about," McDermott said. "Look, the people here sell themselves, and it's about our culture here and the type of people we have, but I wanted to give him a sneak peak at what a normal day is like in the life of a Panther.
"To me, it's a little bit of a hidden gem we've got down here. It's a great place to live, a great place to raise a family. And knowing Jason like I do, that he's a huge family man and a man of faith, I knew he'd fit into the community. I also knew that Jason would help us."
When Avant was a rookie in 2006, McDermott - who eventually became defensive coordinator in Philadelphia – was in his final year as Eagles secondary coach. Avant contributed right away, and while he was never the focal point of the wide receivers group, he was a reliable option virtually every Sunday for eight seasons.
"I remember when we drafted him, I heard that he had unbelievable hands," McDermott said. "From going up against him in practice, I know that on third-and-five, he's tough to stop. He's a guy that (quarterback) Donovan (McNabb) used to look for because if you get it anywhere near him, he's going to catch it. He's strong, has great hands and knows the game. He supports the quarterback."
It's been the same story with Carolina so far. Avant hasn't been the Panthers' leading receiver in any game, but he's caught at least one pass in every game. There have been some big one along the way.
In Week 2 versus the Detroit Lions, Avant snared a 14-yard touchdown in traffic to give the Panthers the lead late in the third quarter, then he secured a 21-yarder on third-and-12 midway through the fourth quarter that paved the way for a game-sealing score.
And just last week against the Chicago Bears, Avant caught back-to-back passes of 20 and 22 yards to get the Panthers moving toward a late first-half touchdown that trimmed their deficit to 21-14 in a game they eventually won 31-24.
"When you feel that the people care about you," Avant said, "it makes it a lot easier to catch that slant when it's third-and-two and a linebacker is running at you."