Shortly after the 2014 season had concluded for the Carolina Panthers, I took a look at some key positions that needed to be addressed this offseason, which can be read here. The Panthers didn’t waste a great deal of time to start addressing these positions. With the NFL Free Agency period officially starting tomorrow, it is a good time to assess where the Panthers are and what work they have left to do.
This was the Panthers’ biggest need this offseason especially with the news that the 2014 starter, Byron Bell, would not be back in Carolina. Unfortunately for the Panthers the free agent market did not have a number of starting options outside of King Dunlap, who quickly re-signed with the San Diego Chargers.
The Panthers got a little lucky when the Tennessee Titans decided to release their starting right tackle a season ago, Michael Oher. The former Baltimore Raven and star of The Blind Side struggled as a Titan and saw his season cut short due to a toe injury. The Panthers moved quickly and signed Oher to a two-year deal worth $2.5 million last week.
The addition of Oher helps out the Panthers tremendously because at most the team got a starting left tackle to protect Cam Newton. When Oher started in the league he started on the left side and had some of his best years at the position. At only 28 years of age, Oher still has the chance to become the franchise left tackle that many saw when he was drafted.
If you were to look at the worst case scenario, the Carolina Panthers get a player who adds depth to a position that is desperately needed and can back up both the left and right side of the offensive line.
Even though the team added a veteran offensive tackle, their work should not stop there. There are a number of high quality tackles in this year’s draft that the team can take their time and develop. A player like T.J. Clemmings, who played his entire college career at right tackle but has the physical qualities to play left in the NFL, would seem to make sense here. Clemmings could play right tackle the first year or two of his career and make the switch to left or sit for the first year and focus primarily on learning the left tackle position.
The signing of Oher was a great start for the Carolina Panthers and provides the team with tremendous flexibility heading into the NFL Draft. However, there work is not done and Oher should be viewed as a stop gap and not the future at the position.
After offensive tackle, the wide receiver position was the biggest need for the Carolina Panthers to address. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin had a phenomenal year being Cam Newton’s number one wide receiver but there wasn’t much behind him at the position. The team brought in Jerricho Cotchery, who is a good veteran presence but isn’t the same wide receiver. Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin were not ready to be major pieces in this offense.
The biggest thing this position lacked was speed and the team addressed this early, just like offensive tackle, with the signing of Ted Ginn Jr. This move could pay off greatly for the Panthers because Ginn is familiar with the system as well as the quarterback by playing here in 2013. After a quality year, he went to play for the Arizona Cardinals but the team released him and he returned to Carolina.
Now that the offense seemingly has their slot receiver, as well as their return man, the front office should turn their attention to finding a wide receiver who can play the outside. Unlike offensive tackle, the have a number of different directions they can go with this.
If the Panthers want to bring in another veteran wide receiver, players like Andre Johnson, Michael Crabtree or Hakeem Nicks would make sense because they are big body targets who have excelled on the outside.
The most likely case would be that the team will look to the Draft to address this need. In the first round, former ASU Sun Devil Jaelen Strong would make sense who is 6’2” and showed some good speed at the Scouting Combine. If the team wants to wait, since they used their first round pick at wide receiver last year, a player like Georgia’s Chris Conley would be a good fit for this team.
While the team saw Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere emerge as quality cornerbacks, the team still needs one or two more to compete with the three and four-wide receiver sets of the NFL. The other question mark with this group is how the coaching staff views Benwikere and where he fits best. Last year, Benwikere played well both as the nickel cornerback as well as outside opposite Norman.
The fact that this is a younger group it would make sense if the Panthers were to bring in a veteran presence to lead this group. A player like Jimmy Wilson from the Miami Dolphins would be an excellent pickup for the Panthers. He has experience playing both strong safety and at nickel cornerback so next year he could be the team’s starting nickelback. Then in 2016, he could replace Roman Harper full-time at safety.
This is one position I would expect the Panthers to address through free agency rather than the NFL Draft.
If the team doesn’t decide to go with a player like Wilson, they will need to find a replacement for Roman Harper who is getting up there in age. Thanks to the presence of Harper, the Panthers should be ok with addressing this through the Draft or with a younger free agent who has the potential to develop into a starter.
In the Draft, the big name is Landon Collins out of Alabama but the Panthers would have to use their first round draft pick, if he is even there when the team is ready to pick at 25. If the team wants to wait until the later rounds, UCF’s Clayton Geathers or Stanford’s Jordan Richards would be good choices.
If the Panthers want to go the free agency route, Kurt Coleman from the Kansas City Chiefs could be a reasonable priced option. After a down year in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles, Coleman revived his career a bit with the Chiefs.
In a recent article by Terez A. Paylor of The Kansas City Star recently wrote that, “Coleman is expected to initially ask for a contract that hovers around the $1.5 million to $2 million per year range.” This would certainly fit into what the Panthers are looking to accomplish in free agency.
NFL teams can never have enough edge rushers. The absence of Greg Hardy was felt on the Panthers’ defense and even though rookie Kony Ealy finished strong, the team will be in the market for a pass rusher. Former Tennessee Titan Derrick Morgan hinted at the possibility of being in North Carolina on SnapChat. He is one player who would make a lot of sense for the Panthers defense and work into a rotation with Ealy and Charles Johnson.
Usually though, edge rushers do not come cheap and the Panthers will have to open the checkbook a bit to bring in a quality player. The Panthers’ front office has done an excellent job to this point of getting players at a reasonable price and can afford to spend a little more on an edge rusher. This is not as big of a need as some of the others listed above and the team would be fine if they kept the same group they had in 2014.
FREE AGENCY POSITIONAL PREVIEWS
OFFENSE: Quarterback | Running back | Tight end |
Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center
DEFENSE: Defensive tackle | Defensive end | Outside linebacker |
Inside linebacker | Safety | Cornerback
SCOUT.COM FREE AGENT RANKINGS
Position: QB RB FB WR TE OT OG C DT DE OLB MLB S CB K P LS