Cost-cutting Carolina cuts quarterback Delhomme

The Carolina Panthers cut quarterback Jake Delhomme late Thursday, just over a year after they gave him a lucrative contract extension only to watch him have his worst season as a pro.

Delhomme’s agent, Rick Smith, confirmed the move and said Delhomme would wait until today to talk to reporters. It signals the Panthers intend to go with Matt Moore or someone new at quarterback for the first time since Delhomme burst onto the scene in 2003 and led Carolina to the Super Bowl.

General manager Marty Hurney didn’t respond to numerous messages seeking comment.

The Panthers also released veteran defensive tackle Damione Lewis on Thursday in a move that saves $5 million in payroll and further depletes the defensive line and sheds even more payroll after the decision not to place the franchise tag on defensive end Julius Peppers.

Cutting Delhomme, however, is a major about-face for the organization.

Despite committing six turnovers in a playoff loss to Arizona to end the 2008 season, Hurney and coach John Fox were so committed to Delhomme they gave him a new deal in which he’s still owed more than $12.5 million in guaranteed money.

Delhomme had no legitimate competition in training camp, but then had a miserable 2009 season. After throwing a career-high 18 interceptions, Delhomme was sidelined with a broken finger.

Moore came on and had eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions as Carolina won four of its final five games. The Panthers on Wednesday gave him the highest restricted free-agent tender of $3.043 million for one season.

Now the 35-year-old Delhomme is out of work, ending his career in Carolina with a 58-40 record as a starter that included a trip to the Super Bowl and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game after the 2005 season.

Jets trade for Cromartie

The New York Jets have reached an agreement in principle with the San Diego Chargers to acquire cornerback Antonio Cromartie.

The Jets confirmed the deal, but didn’t release specifics – although it is thought to include a draft pick in 2011 going to the Chargers.

Cromartie was an All-Pro in 2007 and will team with Darrelle Revis in the Jets’ secondary, making them possibly the best cornerback tandem in the NFL. Cromartie replaces Lito Sheppard, who was released earlier in the day after one disappointing season.

Despite 15 interceptions in four seasons, the Chargers were dissatisfied with Cromartie’s performance late last season and in the playoffs. General manager A.J. Smith made it clear he would try to trade him.

Chargers do about-face

The San Diego Chargers changed their mind and placed the maximum first- and third-round tender on Darren Sproles, one of two surprise moves in the hours before free agency began.

The Chargers also released tackle Jamal Williams, a 12-year veteran who has been the run-stuffing anchor of the defensive line. Williams sustained an arm injury in the 2009 season opener and missed the rest of the year. He’ll turn 34 next month and also has a history of knee injuries.

Sproles was offered a contract for $7,283,000. If the five-year veteran signs an offer sheet with another team, San Diego would have the right to match the offer or receive first- and third-round draft picks as compensation for losing him.

Six days earlier, word made its way around the NFL that the Chargers informed Sproles’ agent, Gary Wichard, that they didn’t intend to tender the running back.

But after releasing franchise rushing leader LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers apparently had a change of heart.

League takes a legal hit

The NFL has lost a last-minute bid to have a federal court hear a lawsuit by two Minnesota Vikings facing suspension for using a banned substance.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in Minneapolis denied the league’s request to move the lawsuit filed by defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams out of state court, where a trial is to begin Monday.

In his order, Magnuson said the NFL’s request “seems calculated only to avoid trial” and “borders on abuse of process.”

The Williamses – who are not related – tested positive in 2008 for the banned substance bumetanide, a diuretic that can mask the presence of steroids. They are not accused of taking steroids. They sued the NFL, arguing the league’s testing violated Minnesota labor law.

Extra points

The Arizona Cardinals have released starting safety Antrel Rolle – a move that had been expected because the Cardinals wanted to avoid paying him the $4 million roster bonus and $8 million salary he is due. Rolle was Arizona’s first-round pick, the eighth selection overall, out of Miami in 2005. … The San Francisco 49ers have re-signed linebacker Matt Wilhelm to a one-year contract, keeping him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. … Safety Bryan Scott agreed to a two-year contract to re-sign with the Buffalo Bills. … The Dallas Cowboys gave restricted free agent Miles Austin the highest possible tender offer, requiring any team that signs the Pro Bowl receiver to give up a first- and third-round pick as compensation. The move, which was expected, likely means Austin will return to Dallas next season. He essentially was offered a one-year deal for $3.168 million. … Center Casey Rabach has agreed to a three-year, $12.3 million deal to re-sign with the Washington Redskins. … The Atlanta Falcons have re-signed cornerback Brian Williams to a one-year contract. … The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison and guard Kynan Forney to contracts. … The New England Patriots have released tight end Chris Baker, who had 14 receptions and two touchdowns last season.