CHARLOTTE — On a warm spring weekend four years ago, DJ Moore and Donte Jackson arrived at Bank of America Stadium within a day of each other, unsure what was about to happen, but quickly finding out they had a bond.
On a warm Saturday afternoon 47 months later, they walked back into the same building within minutes of each other, to sign new contracts to keep them here for the foreseeable future.
In 2018, they were part of a draft class designed to build on success, and carry the organization through to a next generation. Moore was the big receiver from Maryland who arrived in the first round, Jackson the speedy corner from LSU who was chosen in the second, the following night.
In 2022, they're becoming the leaders they once looked up to, after years of seeing the veteran group they met as rookies fade away one at a time. Saturday, with their signatures, they cemented their status as cornerstones for the future.
"These are conversations we had when we were young pups," Jackson said, after signing his new three-year contract. "Watching Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and those guys running around, and being the big guys in the building, we worked and we deserved it, and now is our time to be the big dogs in the building.
"To be those people, when you think of guys like us — those are conversations we've had, and we continued to work. Now we have an opportunity to do it for years to come."
The duo's deals come at the end of a frenzied week, which included the additions of eight new free agents. But as importantly, they represent an emphasis on the Panthers developing their own talent. Moore and Jackson are the third and fourth members of the 2018 draft class to re-sign recently, along with Ian Thomas and Marquis Haynes Sr.
Moore had another year of his rookie contract left, but was eager to sign a three-year extension to keep him here through 2025. Jackson was an unrestricted free agent, and looked around for a few days before negotiations ramped up, and he decided to stay.
Moore called the day "a blessing," and said coming back alongside Jackson underscored their shared narrative.
"It speaks volumes to how we've been progressing through our years here," Moore said. "I think they just rewarded us for our play, and how we are as people, first and foremost. But the play just made it even better for us to stay here."
Their play made it easy to bring them back. Moore's one of only two receivers in the league to top 1,100 yards each of the last three seasons. Jackson has 12 interceptions, and was voted a team captain last year in recognition of his development as a leader.
But though they were joined in their origin stories, and now their shared future, the two are fairly different.
Asked the first thing he remembered about his fellow rookie in 2018, the soft-spoken Moore grinned.
"About Donte? Shoot, how loud he was. That's probably the first thing," Moore said. "Then the second thing was training camp, when we were going against each other. It's always competitive. Donte, he talks a lot, and I don't talk at all, so it was just us going back and forth."
As they've grown together here, they've bridged those surface differences.
Jackson said before he met Moore, he could tell from watching film during the pre-draft process that he was intense.
"My first impression was that he was a dog," Jackson said. "I remember saying to guys I was training with, 'He's like a running back with the ball.'"
Once they met, and began to talk — with Jackson doing most of the talking — they realized they had more in common than the coincidence of being drafted to the same new city.
"It was a minute, it was a while during our rookie year that I was one of the only people DJ would talk to," Jackson said. "Just getting to know him, knowing his mom, his family. Our upbringings are sort of similar. I'm coming from New Orleans, he's coming from Philly. I think it's like regardless of our personalities, but what we've been through in our lives is what knits our friendship and knits our brotherhood.
"Whether I'm screaming or he's being quiet, beyond all that, we understand each other."
And now, as they put pen to paper to pledge the next few years together, they look forward to that bond becoming stronger, and delivering on all those dreams they had when they walked in here as rookies in 2018, not knowing how things would unfold.
"I've been dreaming of this moment since I got to Carolina," Jackson said. "I used to watch guys who had been here like Thomas Davis, and think man, they love him out here, he can't go anywhere without someone knowing who he is. He can't run on that field without people going crazy screaming for him. I used to think, I want to be that guy, I want to be the person everyone knows here for being a great person and the guy in the community and also being a great football player.
"Knowing that this is going to be my home, and this is going to continue, I can't explain it."
What he knows is that he gets to do it alongside Moore, as they hope to lead this team into the future.
View photos of Donte Jackson as he re-signed with the Panthers on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.