CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -The Carolina Panthers solidified two key positions Thursday by re-signing left tackle Travelle Wharton and strong safety Chris Harris.
Wharton, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the month, gets a six-year deal. With a year left on his contract, Harris singed a four-year extension that will keep him with the team through the 2012 season.
``This is the time of year when we're getting contracts done,'' general manager Marty Hurney said.
Wharton and right tackle Jordan Gross were two key priorities for the Panthers in the offseason. Gross is also scheduled to become a free agent, but the Panthers are expected to place the franchise tag on him if they can't agree to a deal by Feb. 21. That means Gross would return to the Panthers next season on a one-year, $7.455 million contract.
and quickly became the anchor at the safety position in his first season with the team.
``We decided to forgo free agency and stay there because he was real happy,'' said Albert Elias, Harris' agent. ``They made a fair offer.''
Elias said Harris' deal is for $13.3 million over the next five years, a total that includes some incentives. Harris will receive a $2 million signing bonus this year and a $1 million roster bonus in 2009.
Wharton started all 16 games at left tackle last season after missing all but one game of 2006 with a left knee injury. Wharton and Gross will play with at least one new teammate on the offensive line following the Panthers' release this week of left guard Mike Wahle.
Reserve defensive tackle Damione Lewis also signed a three-year contract Thursday. Lewis agreed to the deal over the weekend in what has already been a busy offseason for the Panthers, who are coming off consecutive non-winning seasons.
``There are lot of people we're still working on,'' Hurney said.
The Panthers were desperate for safety help during training camp last year when Nate Salley suffered a knee injury and veteran Mike Minter was contemplating retirement. Carolina acquired Harris from Chicago in exchange for a fifth-round pick, and Minter retired a few days later.
The 25-year-old Harris, who had fallen down the depth chart with the Bears, went on to have his best his best season as a pro.
Harris ranked second on the team with a career-high 102 tackles. He had three forced fumbles in two weeks late in the season, including stripping the ball from Seattle running back Shaun Alexander in Carolina's upset win over the Seahawks. He sat out the final game of the season with a neck injury, but has since recovered.
Elias said he first discussed a contract extension with Hurney after Carolina's loss to Atlanta on Nov. 11. Discussions heated up over the past few weeks.
``This gives him some security and lets him play for a team that he really loves,'' Elias said.
Harris, who played at little-known Louisiana-Monroe and was not invited to the NFL combine, was the Bears' sixth-round draft pick in 2005. He intercepted Peyton Manning in Chicago's loss to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
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