CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — The Carolina Panthers released longtime defensive end Charles Johnson on Thursday, a move that will save the team $11 million under the 2016 NFL salary cap.
Johnson started nine games for Carolina in 2015 but struggled with hamstring injuries and missed seven games while on short-term injured reserve.
He had one sack in the regular season and registered three sacks in three postseason games.
Johnson, who spent all nine seasons with the Panthers, had 63.5 sacks — second most in franchise history. He recorded at least nine sacks in four consecutive years from 2010-13 and had a career-high 12 1.2 sacks in 2012.
“Charles was an impact player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, both on and off the field.”
Carolina Panthers General Manger Dave Gettleman
“Charles was an impact player for the Carolina Panthers for a long time, both on and off the field,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said in a statement Thursday. “His statistics speak for themselves, and as a team captain he led the way you want your leaders to lead — by example. I wish him the best moving forward.”
The move means the Panthers must replace both starting defensive ends from last season.
The Panthers thanked Charles for his work via the official Twitter account.
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) March 3, 2016
Jared Allen retired earlier this offseason.
Kony Ealy, who had three sacks and an interception in the Super Bowl, is expected to take over at one of those spots but the other remains vacant. The Panthers recently visited with former Jets and Dolphins defensive end Quinton Coples, but no agreement has been reached.
The Panthers could address the need in the draft or free agency.
“Charles has had a very good career as a Carolina Panther and I’ve enjoyed coaching him the past five seasons,” coach Ron Rivera said. “Charles fought through adversity with his injury last season and set a great example for our locker room as a captain. I have a great deal of respect for Charles as a player and a person and thank him for all the contributions he has made to this team.”
He is one of three players in franchise history to have 10 or more sacks in at least three seasons.
Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2007, forced 17 forced fumbles during his career, which also ranks second in team history. He played in 118 regular season games for the Panthers, the third most among a defensive lineman in team history behind Mike Rucker’s 139 and Julius Peppers’ 122.
BY STEVE REED