Johnson takes big cut to stay with Panthers

Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson. (Bob Leverone/AP)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Defensive end Charles Johnson has agreed to take a major pay cut to return to the Carolina Panthers.

Fullback Mike Tolbert isn’t going anywhere either.

The Panthers announced Wednesday that Johnson, a nine-year NFL veteran, has re-signed with the team after being released last week in a salary cap move. They also announced that they re-signed Tolbert, an All-Pro fullback, to a two-year deal.

Johnson received a one-year contract worth $3 million to return to the NFC champions, according to his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. He said Johnson turned down an offer in excess of $6 million from another team.

Johnson was slated to cost the Panthers $15 million this season under the cap before he was cut.

"My heart was in Carolina," he said in a news release Wednesday. "Once you put all that energy into it, I feel like I would have been wasting all that work had I gone somewhere else for some dollars. I'd rather be happy doing what I'm doing around people that I know, and I'm comfortable with. I can't wait to get back to work."

The Panthers will have to carry $4 million in "dead money" under this year's cap for the remainder of the prorated signing bonus on Johnson's last contract, in addition to his $3 million base salary this year.

"We worked very closely with Charles and his agent in the last few days to come to an agreement and I'm appreciative of all the hard work put forth to get a deal done," general manager Dave Gettleman said. "What this deal signifies is Charles is a man of his word and in his heart he bleeds Carolina blue. The entire Panthers family is very happy that Charles will be able to continue his career here."

Johnson started nine games for the Panthers 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 three sacks in three post-season games.

The 29-year-old Johnson has played nine seasons with Carolina and his 63 1/2 sacks are second-most in franchise history, behind Julius Peppers' 81. He registered at least nine sacks in four consecutive years from 2010-13 and had a career-high 12 1/2 sacks in 2012.

Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Georgia in 2007, forced 17 fumbles during his career, which also ranks second in team history. He played in 118 regular-season games for the Panthers, third most for a defensive lineman in team history behind Mike Rucker's 139 games and Peppers' 122.

Tolbert has been a valuable member of the Panthers offence for the past three seasons, but he struggled in a 24-10 Super Bowl loss to Denver, fumbling twice -- one of those resulting in a turnover.

Like Johnson, Tolbert said he left money on the table from other teams in free agency to rejoin the Panthers.

Tolbert said on a conference call Wednesday that he and Johnson re-signing is "proof in the pudding" about how much players care about the culture in the Panthers organization.