CHARLOTTE (Charlotte Observer) - For a team that just went 2-14, there's not exactly a race to leave the Carolina Panthers.
Potential free-agent center Ryan Kalil wasn't upset about receiving the franchise tag Tuesday, and the other two players who could have been tagged both professed their desire to stay as well.
Technically speaking, the Panthers risk losing defensive end Charles Johnson and running back DeAngelo Williams as unrestricted free agents (assuming a new collective-bargaining agreement is reached), but they might not.
"I think we all three want to stay, and I think they want to keep all three of us," Kalil said. "I think right now, it's a matter of until the CBA is resolved, nothing else can happen. But their actions tell us, and from talking to (general manager) Marty Hurney and (owner Jerry Richardson), as well as talking to those two guys, it's clear.
"They want to try to keep the core guys together, especially the ones who have played well. I do think there's an urgency on their part, they want to keep us all here."
By tagging Kalil, the Panthers guaranteed him a one-year contract worth at least $10million. That makes him the highest-paid center in the league in annual average, though he'd obviously prefer a long-term deal. At the same time, he didn't express the displeasure Julius Peppers did in the same situation during 2009. Kalil, a former second-round pick, was laughing about the deal, since he's only the second center in league history to get the franchise tag.
"I've been watching football a long time," Kalil said. "And I never thought I'd see 'franchise tag' next to my name."
Kalil said that while the unsettled labor situation has kept the Panthers from extending all three contracts, there's a clear intention to do so. The other two hope he's right.
Johnson said Tuesday he wasn't necessarily expecting the tag himself - to do so would have cost more than $13million - but he hopes something can be done to keep him here once a CBA is reached.
"Yeah, I want to stay here," Johnson said. "We'll see what happens with the CBA, but this is where I want to be. I just like Charlotte, like what I've established here, and hopefully we can figure out a way to keep that going."
Williams echoed those sentiments, though the soon-to-be 28-year-old back likely is behind Kalil and Johnson in terms of priority when it comes to long-term investments.
"My thoughts are still the same, I want to be here," Williams said in an e-mail. "But until we get a CBA deal done we can only speculate on the endless possibilities.
"But yes, I want to be a Panther."
Those sentiments have to be comforting to a team with plenty of issues. The Panthers have 28 players whose contracts expired in 2010, including potential unrestricted free agents such as linebackers Thomas Davis and James Anderson, cornerback Richard Marshall, quarterback Matt Moore, defensive tackle Derek Landri and tight ends Jeff King and Dante Rosario.
Most of those players have said they want to hang around, which could surprise some.
"I know Mr. Richardson has gotten some bad press lately, but I think those are things that are going to happen in a negotiation," Kalil said, referring to recent reports Richardson was condescending to players during CBA talks. "But at the end of the day, he's definitely somebody that the guys here do like and respect. I know we went through a rebuilding phase here last year, and it might not look good. But the decisions he and Marty made have inspired some guys, and they want to stay here and make it right.
"I think with where we are now, guys realize that this organization is set up to go out and get these guys under contract, to keep these free agents. Between that and coach (Ron) Rivera and the staff he assembled, I think a lot of guys are really excited."