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Panthers Grab Smith For $21M

The Carolina Panthers signed unrestricted free-agent Chuck Smith on Monday, hoping a player who tormented them can become one who enhances their pass rush.

"We definitely have great expectations," coach George Seifert said after Carolina signed the former Atlanta player to a five-year, $21 million contract that includes a $4.5 million signing bonus.

Seifert bases his expectations on what Smith did in the Panthers' first five seasons. Smith had 42 sacks over that span, and nine of them came against the Panthers.

Smith made his mark in other ways, too. He got into some heated exchanges with several Carolina players, including center Frank Garcia and tight end Wesley Walls, and he was fined by the NFL for a November 1996 hit on Kerry Collins that left the quarterback with a torn knee ligament.

"I know I was a hated guy here at one time," Smith said, "but the reason I was hated was because I played hard."

Smith, 30, played his first nine NFL seasons in Atlanta, recording 58.5 sacks. He started all 16 games last season and had 10 sacks, which is four more than the combined total of the Panthers' regular starters along the defensive line.

Four of Smith's 1999 sacks came against Carolina.

"I wasn't only the most hated guy in Carolina. I was hated all over," Smith said. "I'm not a finesse guy. I'm not a nice guy out there. I'll do whatever it takes, and I'll make sure my team is respected and I'm respected. That's just my approach. It's kind of like my style of play. I have no style."

Seifert said Smith would likely start at right end and be backed up by Mike Rucker, a 1999 second-round draft choice.

Chuck Wiley started all 16 games for the Panthers at right end last year but did not have a single sack. Seifert said Wiley would remain "part of the competition" at defensive end, but the coach added that he planned to speak to Wiley about possibly moving to defensive tackle.

To sign Smith, the Panthers have to clear about $1.7 million of space from their 2000 salary cap. But because Smith did not formally sign his contract until after 4 p.m. Monday, Carolina had until 4 p.m. Tuesday to make the needed moves to get below the $62.2 million cap figure.

"We've got our hands full right now," Seifert said, "and there has been and there will be some anxious moments."

The money concerns weren't Seifert's primary focus, however; he was happy to have eliminated the source of whahas been a problem for the Panthers' offensive line and quarterbacks in recent years.

As Seifert noted, the person who may be happiest about the Panthers' signing of Smith is quarterback Steve Beuerlein.

"In the past Steve had to worry about Chuck," Seifert said. "Now somebody else is going to have to worry about him."

©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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