The Charlotte-to-Cleveland pipeline is officially open, although the first ex-Carolina player to join Rob Chudzinski with the Browns is not the one most expected.
Free agent tight end Gary Barnidge has agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Cleveland, his agent said Wednesday. Barnidge, the No. 2 tight end behind Greg Olsen in Charlotte, hopes to have more pass-catching opportunities in Cleveland, where Chudzinski took over for the fired Pat Shurmur following two seasons as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.
After Chudzinski was hired in January, Panthers backup quarterback Derek Anderson created a stir by hinting on his Facebook page that he might return to Cleveland to tend to “unfinished business.” Anderson spent his first four seasons in Cleveland, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2007 when Chudzinski was the Browns’ offensive coordinator.
But a Chudzinski and Anderson reunion in Cleveland is not likely to happen, league sources said Wednesday.
Anderson, a free agent who spent the past two seasons with Carolina, is said to be leaning toward staying in Charlotte as Cam Newton’s backup, according to sources. The Panthers have made an offer to Anderson, although they do not yet have an agreement in place, league sources said.
Anderson re-upped with the Panthers last offseason, agreeing to a 1-year deal worth nearly $900,000.
Anderson infamously took a shot at Browns’ fans on his way out following the 2009 season, calling them “ruthless” for cheering when he was injured and saying they didn’t “deserve a winner.” After a mercurial one-year stint in Arizona, Anderson has stayed under the radar in Charlotte while drawing praise for his attitude in the meeting room and his relationship with Newton.
Given the durability of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton, Anderson’s repetitions have been limited. But he moved the offense efficiently when Newton was out several plays during a Week 17 win at New Orleans last season.
Barnidge also had limited opportunities in Charlotte playing behind Olsen, whose 69 catches and 843 receiving yards in 2012 were the most by a Panthers tight end, breaking Wesley Walls’ single-season marks in both categories.
Barnidge, 27, caught six passes for 78 yards and his first career touchdown last season after missing the entire 2011 season with a broken ankle.
Cliff Brady, Barnidge’s agent, said the Panthers made an offer to keep Barnidge. But Brady said the Browns gave Barnidge more money and the chance to be a big part of the offense.
Two of the Browns’ tight ends – Rock Hill’s Ben Watson and Alex Smith – are free agents.
“I know he’s excited to get that opportunity to go catch some balls and have some fun up in Cleveland,” Brady said.
Barnidge’s departure leaves the Panthers in the market for another pass-catching tight end. They have agreed to a 1-year deal with free agent Ben Hartsock, but the nine-year veteran is primarliy a blocking tight end.
Tight end/fullback Richie Brockel, an exclusive-rights free agent who re-signed with Carolina, also is best known as a blocker.
Panther sign veteran CB: New general manager Dave Gettleman’s first unrestricted free agent acquisition isn’t likely to move the meter in Charlotte, but the signing of cornerback Drayton Florence at least gives Carolina a veteran at a thin position.
Florence, a 10-year veteran who was San Diego’s second-round pick in 2003, signed a 1-year deal with the Panthers.
Florence, 32, has played in 143 career games with four teams, with 99 starts. His final season in San Diego was in 2007, when Panthers coach Ron Rivera was the Chargers’ inside linebackers coach.
The Panthers needed a veteran corner after releasing Chris Gamble, the nine-year veteran who has since retired. Starting nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn is a free agent for the first time.
The team’s top three corners under contract are all 25 or younger – Josh Norman, Josh Thomas and James Dockery.
Florence played in seven games, with three starts, for the Lions last season after the Broncos cut him at the end of the preseason.
He has 18 career interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns while with Buffalo in 2010 and ‘11.