CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ The Carolina Panthers added depth to their secondary Thursday by signing cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock, an unrestricted free agent from the Minnesota Vikings.

Hitchcock, a fifth-year pro who had seven interceptions in 1998 and two last season, will challenge Eric Davis and Doug Evans, the Panthers' itarting cornerbacks, coach George Seifert said. Carolina was ranked 23rd in the NFL in pass defense last year.

``Jimmy Hitchcock has been an effective player in the NFL for the last five years,'' Seifert said, ``and we look forward to him being a part of our secondary and adding to what should be a very competitive situation.''

Hitchcock said the contract was a four-year deal, but he, his agent and the Panthers declined to reveal the financial terms.

Hitchcock, a third-round pick by New England in 1995, was traded to the Vikings in 1998. He has started the last 47 regular-season games and has 278 tackles, 13 interceptions and four touchdowns as a pro.

Hitchcock also visited the Giants and Bengals but said the Panthers were especially attractive because of Seifert.

``They expect me to be in there and be a starting corner. They expect me to be competing for a job,'' Hitchcock said. ``I'm not content with being behind anybody. I'm a starter. That's the way I approach things.''