Panthers' Free Agent Preview: Linebackers

The Carolina Panthers have two of the best linebackers in the league with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. However, the team struggled to find that third linebacker to play alongside these two. Luckily for the front office, these four players are available in free agency and could be the perfect fit.

The Carolina Panthers played a lot of nickel defense instead of the base 4-3. There was two main reasons for this with the first being offenses are using more three and four wide receiver sets. The other was the team struggled finding a third linebacker they could have on the field for extended periods of time.

The team tried to use Chase Blackburn and A.J. Klein at the outside linebacker position however both struggled with injuries that kept them off the field. Down the stretch the team turned to undrafted Adarius Glanton but he only played 49 snaps out of a possible 220 in the final four games of the season.

Adding another veteran at outside linebacker would give the Panthers’ defense an opportunity to spend more time in their base defense. They could switch to their nickel defense when they want and not out of necessity due to a lack of personnel. These are four players who would be excellent fits at weakside linebacker.

 

Justin Durant

2014 Stats: 49 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception

Justin Durant is one player who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should. In nine seasons he has played for three teams (Jacksonville, Detroit and Dallas) and has been productive at every one. In two of those seasons (2009 and 2012) he had over 95 tackles. He is also a versatile linebacker that can play all three positions.

The issue with Durant has always been durability and can he stay healthy. He has only been able to play a full 16 game season once in his career. This past season with Dallas he was only able to play in six games before having season-ending surgery on a torn bicep. A player like Durant would add quality depth to the linebacker position and at the very least gives the team a backup at all three linebacker positions.

 

Malcolm Smith

2014 Stats: 37 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles

It isn’t often that a team has a chance to sign a Super Bowl MVP but that is actually what teams will get with Malcom Smith. Unfortunately for Smith, he has not had a chance to show his full potential due to lack of playing time with players like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright ahead of him on the depth chart.

He is a young player at only 25 years of age who has primarily played on the weakside, which is the position the Panthers hope to fill. The fact that he has not had much playing time would seemingly keep the contract reasonable for the Panthers to pursue. However, the team could have some stiff competition against teams like Atlanta and Oakland who have added coaches from the Seahawks’ coaching staff.

 

Lance Briggs

2014 Stats: 34 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception

If the front office doesn’t feel the free agent market has a long term answer to the outside linebacker position, a player like Lance Briggs would make a lot of sense. He is getting up there in age and has dealt with injuries the past two seasons, playing only 17 games over that stretch.

When he was on the field he was still a force averaging just over six tackles a game. If the Panthers want to play more nickel defense in 2015, similar to last season, this could help keep Briggs’ snap count down. This could keep a 13-year veteran like Briggs fresher over the course of the season.

 

Geno Hayes

2014 Stats: 51 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Geno Hayes is an eight-year veteran who spent time with Tampa Bay, Chicago and recently the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has played 30 games for the Jaguars and was highly productive with 128 total tackles and three sacks.

Similar to Briggs, Geno Hayes is not a long term answer at the weakside linebacker position but he could be the starter for two or three seasons while Briggs would probably be the answer for only 2015. Hayes signed a 2-year, $2 million dollar contract with the Jaguars in 2013 and if the Panthers would be able to bring in Hayes for a similar contract, this would be an excellent move. 


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