CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have retained four of their exclusive rights free agents by signing running back Fozzy Whittaker to a two-year contract and wide receiver Brenton Bersin, offensive lineman Brian Folkerts and linebacker Ben Jacobs to one-year deals.
Carolina hasn't tendered its other exclusive rights free agent, offensive tackle Kevin Hughes. If not tendered, Hughes can become a free agent and sign with any team when the NFL's free agency signing period begins Tuesday. Whittaker, Bersin, Folkerts and Jacobs would have become free agents if the Panthers had not signed or tendered them.
Whittaker was a find for the Panthers early in training camp last year, while Bersin, Folkerts and Jacobs all emerged after being invited as tryout players to rookie minicamp in 2013.
Whittaker scored one of Carolina's most important touchdowns last season, turning a screen pass into a 39-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a second-half lead they never relinquished in their NFC Wild Card victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Signed as a free agent on the first weekend of training camp, Whittaker earned a role as a change-of-pace back and finished the regular season with 145 rushing yards and 60 receiving yards while scoring a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown. He also served as the team's primary kick returner, averaging 23.8 yards on 11 returns.
Bersin, who made the Panthers' 53-man roster in 2014 after coming up short the previous two seasons, caught 13 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown in 2014 and averaged 6.1 yards on 14 punt returns. After attending training camp with the Panthers at his alma mater, Wofford, in 2012 before being cut, he got a second chance with a tryout in 2013 and earned a spot on the practice squad that season.
Folkerts played in all 16 games in his second season with the Panthers in 2014, seeing action as a reserve guard and center and on special teams. Jacobs emerged as a special teams standout after spending nearly the entire 2013 season on Carolina's practice squad, pacing the Panthers in 2014 with nine special teams tackles.