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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Reports: Charles Johnson spurns Bucs, returns to Panthers



NFL teams can officially sign unrestricted free agents starting Wednesday at 4 p.m. as a new league year begins, but the Bucs already had a big swing -- and miss -- on Tuesday.

The Bucs brought in former Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson for a visit to One Buc Place, wooing a 29-year-old as they seek the dominant outside pass-rusher they've been lacking. Johnson, who averaged 10.5 sacks per season from 2010-14 but was limited by a hamstring last year, had been cut by Carolina in a salary-cap move as he was due to make $11-million this year.

"2mor u will know my future!!! It's going to be epic," Johnson wrote cryptically on Twitter, giving hope to Bucs fans.

By 7:30 p.m., however, multiple reports had Johnson returning to the Panthers, on a hometown discount no less. ESPN reported that he chose a one-year, $3-million offer from Carolina when other teams (he visited the Giants and Bucs) had offered $6-million a year.

The big question as the Bucs move forward is whether they'll be able to re-sign running back Doug Martin, who made the Pro Bowl last season after finishing second in the NFL in rushing. Both sides have expressed an interest in him staying in Tampa, but the Bucs haven't offered enough money to keep him from seeking offers elsewhere.

THIS AND THAT: The Bucs gave restricted free agent receiver Russell Shepard with a $1.6-million one-year tender that will allow them to match any offer from other teams. Shepard, 27, has been a leader on special-teams in kick coverage but has played sparingly on offense in his three seasons in Tampa. ... The Bucs opted not to tender defensive end Olatunji Fatinikun, an exclusive-rights free agent who had 12 tackles in 12 games with the Bucs but is now recovering from ACL surgery. It's possible Fatinikun, 24, signs with the team later this year.

[Last modified: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 9:23pm]


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