CHARLOTTE – At general manager Dave Gettleman's introductory press conference, he referenced the importance of "big men" to the building of a team.
Colin Cole certainly qualifies.
The Panthers have signed the 328-pound defensive tackle to bulk up their front line. Cole, who made his NFL debut in 2004, has played in 84 games with 34 starts, recording 182 tackles and 4.5 sacks.
Cole hasn't played in an NFL game since starting for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010. An ankle injury sidelined him for five games in the middle of the season, and offseason surgery on the ankle contributed to his release prior to the 2011 season.
It's rare that a veteran player makes a successful return to the NFL after a significant time away, but it's not unheard of. Defensive end Al Wallace had essentially been out of the NFL for three seasons before returning to action with the Panthers in 2002 and posting five productive seasons.
Cole started 26 games for the Seahawks in 2009 and 2010, recording 92 tackles and excelling as a run stopper. He played for the Green Bay Packers from 2004-2008, mostly as a reserve. He was very productive in the role, recording 62 tackles and two sacks in 2005 and 53 tackles and one sack in 2006.
Cole was a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior at the University of Iowa after recording 85 tackles and nine sacks but wasn't selected in the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent time with the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions in 2003 before seeing his first game action with the Packers in 2004.