This position needs to be priority number one for the Panthers front office this offseason. They will need to find a player, either in free agency or the draft that can step in Day 1 and provide stability to the position.
Last year, the Panthers decided to move Byron Bell from right tackle to the left side however it is hard to say that move was successful. According to Pro Football Focus, Bell gave up the second most sacks (9) of any offensive tackle last year and was given the second worst overall rating (-33.4).
With Bell becoming a free agent after this past season, the Panthers are in dire need to find a left tackle. Unfortunately for Carolina, there are not a lot of options on the free agent market for starting left tackles. The best player may be King Dunlap, who played for the San Diego Chargers last year, and Michael Roos, but at 32 years of age there is a possibility he could retire instead of continue playing.
This leaves the NFL Draft as the only other viable option but there are a number of quality prospects that could be available late in the first round when Carolina will be on the clock. Players like T.J. Clemmings, La’el Collins and Erek Flowers are all potential options for Carolina but the question is does this team feel comfortable having a rookie protect Cam Newton’s blindside.
This position is the team’s most pressing need and could end up being their most difficult to address.
The Panthers struck gold last year with their first round pick of Kelvin Benjamin. This year the team will need to find depth at the position and find a player who can stretch the field and be a deep threat for Newton. The good news for Carolina is that there are many more options in free agency and the draft than there is at the offensive tackle position.
There are top names wide receivers like Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Demaryius Thomas as free agents this year but it would be a surprise to see Carolina sign any of these names. That doesn’t mean they can’t find some quality receivers and players like Torrey Smith, Cecil Shorts and Eddie Royal could be a perfect fit for this offense.
The Panthers will need to decide first where their own players fit best in this defense before they address the cornerback position. Josh Norman is the clear number one cornerback and will spend most of 2015 marked up against opponents top receiving options. The question marks lies more in how the organization views Bene Benwikere. The fifth-round pick from a season ago started the year as the team’s nickelback however after he came back from injury played more on the outside.
If the Panthers decide to move Benwikere inside, which I think is most likely, the Panthers would have a number of options at cornerback in free agency. There are big names on the market like Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Brandon Flowers. The one player that is the most intriguing though is Kareem Jackson from the Houston Texans who at only 25 years of age still has a lot of good football ahead of him. If the Panthers could add a player of Jackson’s caliber and move Benwikere inside to nickel, this defense is going to be extremely tough to pass.
Cornerback isn’t the only position the Panthers need to address in the secondary as they will need to start looking to find Roman Harper’s replacement. The veteran safety had a solid season in 2014 and his leadership really helped lead a young and inexperienced secondary. However at 32 years of age the question certainly is how much good football does he have left.
There are going to plenty of options for the Panthers if they want to find Harper’s replacement in free agency this year. The big name at the position will be Devin McCourty who has been having a career year for the New England Patriots. I don’t believe the Panthers are going to want to spend the top dollar required to get a player like McCourty but there is plenty of other options.
Browns’ safety Tashaun Gipson is an intriguing option who has shown an incredible ability to force turnovers and had six interceptions in 11 games this past year. The combination of hard hitting Tre Boston and the coverage skills of Gipson could be a perfect fit. Other players the Panthers could consider that would be good fits would be Da’Norris Searcy of the Buffalo Bills and Bradley McDougald of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This is the one position that is going to be the toughest to get a read on and will come down to what the Panthers decide to do with DeAngelo Williams. There is no question that the Panthers’ running back will go down as one of the best in franchise history. The big question is how much does he have left in the tank. Last year he battled injuries and missed a total of 10 games because of it. However, when he was on the field he did not look like the same player and finished with only 219 rushing yards.
If the team does decide to let Williams go, they should try and find a pass-catching running back that could compliment Jonathan Stewart. There is certainly going to be plenty of options out there for them to address this need if this is the route they decide to go.
The first name that comes to mind would be former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. The speed and quickness along with his pass catching ability makes him one of the best home run threats in the NFL. He is coming off a down year in Buffalo which may keep his contract demands a little lower than they should be.
Other bargain running backs that the team could look at would be Knowshon Moreno and Darren McFadden. Both players have had injury problems in the past but both are excellent pass catchers and have tremendous speed, similar to Spiller. Any of these three running backs would be an excellent fit for the Panthers’ offense and give Newton one more weapon to work with to put points on the board.
*For a full list of NFL free agents visit Spotrac.com