This is without a doubt the biggest concern for the Carolina Panthers heading into the offseason and one they will have to address early. The team's starting cornerbacks at the start of 2015 was Josh Norman and Charles Tillman, and both became free agents at the end of the year.
Now these are two players in much different situations as Norman is a player on the rise, and will most likely be one of the highest paid cornerbacks entering 2016, the question is will he be in a Panthers' uniform Week 1. If the Panthers are not able to sign Norman to a long-term deal, all is not lost per say. The team can use the franchise tag on Norman but that will eat up a majority of the cap space the team has and limit their ability to address other areas.
Meanwhile, Tillman is towards the end of his career and suffered a torn ACL in the latter stages of the regular season. With the timing of the injury, it that may not allow him to be ready for the start of next season. So even if does want to play and returns to Carolina, the Panthers will be looking for an additional starting cornerback as insurance if Tillman isn't completely healthy.
General manager Dave Gettleman has never spent big money at the position but rather looked for bargains or players at the end of their careers. Over the years he has signed players like Drayton Florence, Antoine Cason and Tillman during free agency. It will be interesting to see if his approach to the position changes this year with one of their own being a high-profile free agent.
This is another position that could really dictate how the Panthers approach the offseason. The team does have their two starting defensive ends under contract, Charles Johnson and Jared Allen, however there is a great deal of money tied up in the position. The Panthers actually spend the second most in the NFL at defensive end, according to Spotrac.
If the front office does want to open up some cap space, they should look no further than this position. If the team were to cut Johnson and Allen, it would result in $4,020,000 in dead cap but also $19,500,000 in cap savings.
In addition to the savings, one of the reasons this move makes sense is the team has depth at the position behind their starters with Kony Ealy, Mario Addison and Ryan Delaire. These are young players on the rise with veterans Johnson and Allen towards the end of their careers.
If the front office does decide to cut Johnson and Allen, they would need to add another pass rusher or two but would have much more flexibility during free agency.
After Josh Norman, the Panthers' biggest free agent is Mike Remmers, who has been the starting right tackle for the past year and half. The Panthers signed him off the Rams' practice squad in October of the 2014 season and he has helped solidify the position.
Remmers is now a restricted free agent, which essentially means if the Panthers tender a qualifying offer to Remmers, they hold the right to first refusal. This means that Remmers is allowed to sign a contract with any team once free agency begins but the Panthers would have a chance to match that contract.
The team does have options at this position though as they drafted Daryl Williams last year, who has the potential to be the future at the tackle position. The question is how confident the Panthers are that the future is now and would be comfortable entering the year with Williams as the starting right tackle.
Similar to right tackle, the Panthers will need to decide if the future of the position is already on the roster. The contract for Roman Harper was voided this past week which seemingly would pave the way for Tre Boston to start at safety next season alongside Kurt Coleman.
Boston was the starting safety at the end of the 2014 season but was passed on the depth chart by Harper and Coleman during training camp. He saw some playing time throughout the year and looked more than capable of being a starting safety for this defense.
This past season of primarily practing and watching from the sidelines could prove to be benefical for Boston. Even if Boston is the answer, the team will be in the market for an additional safety for depth.
The last position of concern is at fullback with Mike Tolbert becoming a free agent at the end of the season. While Tolbert didn't have a ton of work this past season, the threat of him in the backfield running the ball or catching it, made this offense that much more unpredictable.
Tolbert had a bounce back year for the Panthers after career lows in 2014, finishing this past season with an average of 4.1 yards per carry and 8.6 yards per reception. He also had four total touchdowns after zero in 2014.
However, he has crossed that dreaded 30-year-old mark for running backs, which is the age a majority of running backs have seen their play tail off significantly.
If the Panthers do not bring back Tolbert, they will be in the market this offseason for a player of a similar skill set as Tolbert that can bring the same kind of versatility to this offense.