Two former southwest Mississippi football stars have found new NFL homes this week.
Three nights after McComb’s Charvarius Ward agreed to a three-year, $42 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers, Amite County’s Damien Wilson joined the Carolina Panthers on a two-year deal reportedly worth $6.9 million on Thursday evening.
The two defenders were teammates in Kansas City from 2019-20 and helped the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship after the 2019 season before losing in a return trip the following year. Wilson spent 2021 with the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting all 17 games and recording a career-high 106 tackles along with three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
Wilson, a Gloster native, was a fourth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2015 out of Minnesota. He spent four years in Dallas before joining the Chiefs, Jaguars and now Panthers.
Ward also overlapped briefly with Wilson in Dallas, signing with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2018. However, he was traded to Kansas City before playing a game with the star on his helmet. Ward emerged as a starter in 2019 and has become one of the NFL’s best cover cornerbacks — opponents have caught less than half the passes thrown with him in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kansas City had interest in bringing back Wilson but didn’t close the deal. The Chiefs’ salary-cap situation made it virtually impossible to match San Francisco’s offer to Ward.
The Panthers stumbled to a 5-12 record in 2021 after a 3-0 start. Wilson joins a linebacking corps headlined by Shaq Thompson but otherwise facing offseason question marks. San Francisco, meanwhile, reached the NFC championship game last season after sneaking into the playoffs at 10-7. The 49ers prioritized the secondary in free agency, inking Ward to a deal that reportedly includes $26.7 million guaranteed.
Both pro stars have received warm welcomes when returning to their Mississippi hometowns. In January, Wilson attended a ceremony in which a Gloster street was renamed in his honor. Ward held a turkey distribution at the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Mississippi during Thanksgiving week, when the Chiefs happened to be on bye.
Ward said his salary increase ahead of the 2021 season helped put him in position to give back to McComb. With his new contract, many more such opportunities surely lie ahead.
Defensive tackle Vernon Butler, a North Pike alum, remains a free agent as of Friday. The six-year NFL veteran spent the last two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, who invested significant money elsewhere on their defensive line by signing 33-year-old Von Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract. Butler spent 2016-19 with the Panthers after starring at Louisiana Tech.
Linebacker Davion Taylor (South Pike) remains under contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Same with Seahawks offensive guard Gabe Jackson, a high school teammate of Wilson.