CHARLOTTE - Three years ago, center Gino Gradkowski helped the Baltimore Ravens win a Super Bowl, a Ravens team that included current Panther players Michael Oher and Ed Dickson.
Now Gradkowski is a Panther too after signing a three-year contract on the first full day of free agency to join a team that reached the Super Bowl just last month.
"Mike and Ed, we played together in Baltimore and won a championship together. It would be pretty cool to win another one with them," Gradkowski said. "I talked to Mike briefly yesterday through text. He just told me that I'm going to love it here. I have a good feeling already."
The brother of journeyman backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was a fourth-round draft choice by the Ravens in 2012 from the University of Delaware. He played in 40 games in three seasons with the Ravens, starting all 16 games at center in 2013. He was traded to the Denver Broncos following the 2014 season, but the Broncos waived him prior to the regular season opener, and the Falcons claimed him ahead of the Panthers on the waiver wire. Gradkowski played three games with one start for Atlanta in 2015.
"It just looked like a bunch of guys having fun playing football, and winning. That's what excited me the most about coming here," said Gradkowski, who was on the Falcons roster but didn't play in two meetings with Carolina last season. "I like where this team is heading. I like where it's been the last few years. I'm looking forward to where we go."
Gradkowski started at both guard spots and center in college and should provide depth at all of those positions behind Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil and established guards Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell. Fernando Velasco, who filled that role for the Panthers the past two seasons, became an unrestricted free agent Wednesday.
"He gives us depth at center and guard," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You feel very secure that if something were to happen, you can plug him in and not lose everything. It's very much like with Fernando last year when something happened with Kalil, he had to come in and start the Indianapolis game. We believe that's what Gradkowski can do for us."
That's certainly Gradkowski's intent.
"It's very important for me to be that type of player, to be able to do whatever I'm asked to do," he said. "I like to think of myself as a guy who prepares well and is knowledgeable but also a guy who has the toughness and the quickness that it takes.
"I'm excited about getting better and growing as a player here."