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Carolina Panthers' Impending Free Agents: Who Stays & Who Goes?

18 players from the 2015-16 season will be free agents once the new league year begins. Josh Norman and Mike Remmers headline the group with a slew of veterans also in the mix who could potentially see their tenures with Carolina come to a close. With just a few short weeks until free agency opens, Kenan Goyette takes a look at the Panthers' impending free agents and predicts who stays and who goes.

Josh Norman – CB

The fourth-year cornerback is undoubtedly the Panthers’ top free agent going into this 2016 offseason and plenty of focus will be on deciding what to do with one of their defensive stars. Josh Norman built off of a solid second half of 2014 and parlayed it into establishing himself as one of the league’s top shutdown corners, giving Carolina a true tone-setter in the secondary. He burst onto the scene picking off four passes in four games including two pick-sixes and afterwards, was rarely ever thrown at again. Norman recorded 18 pass deflections and three forced fumbles to go with a passer rating of 58.1 against him, one of the best marks in the league. He’ll be looking to cash in after betting on himself last offseason and it will be up for the Panthers to decide whether they want to use the franchise tag or sign him long term here and now.

Prediction: Stays, Franchise Tag

 

Mike Remmers – RT

After Norman there are a slew of average starters that are set to hit free agency with Mike Remmers being at the top of the bunch. Remmers joined Carolina in midway through the 2014 season and immediately established himself as a solid contributor along the offensive line. At right tackle, Remmers finished the year out strong for the Panthers and headed into 2015 as the frontrunner to start. This season he played and started each regular and postseason game and held his own against some of the league’s toughest competition like J.J. Watt in Week 2. Through the first two postseason games he hadn’t given up a single sack or pressure to Seattle or Arizona but unfortunately the Super Bowl left a negative impression on the season as Remmers was completely overmatched by the Broncos’ Von Miller. The Panthers spent a fourth round pick on Daryl Williams in last year’s draft and he looks to be the future at tackle but a return to Carolina for the third-year player could still be in the cards.

Prediction: Stays, 1-2 year deal

 

Charles Tillman – CB

As the Norman decision looms and with the injuries that befell the position, cornerback will be the biggest area of need in Carolina and 13-year veteran Charles Tillman’s future will certainly affect the subsequent moves. Tillman had a solid year with the Panthers but saw it cut short by injuries again. He played in just 12 games this season missing just over a month while nursing a knee sprain and after returning, tore his ACL in Week 17. Tillman still had a solid season however as he racked up 55 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven pass deflections. But his best days are clearly behind him and when free agency begins, the vet will be 35 and has now had three consecutive seasons hampered by injuries. Tillman has said that he wants to return to play for a 14th season but only if it’s with the Panthers. As a coach-on-the-field and mentor he’s an asset to the team but Dave Gettleman and company haven’t shied away from cutting aging players regardless.

Prediction: Stays, 1-year deal

 

Mike Tolbert

The Carolina offense has made its mark with a tough ground-and-pound run game and is one of the only teams in the league to utilize a true fullback in Mike Tolbert. The eight-year veteran is set to hit free agency after returning to form and earning first team All-Pro honors this season and providing a consistent force in the backfield as usual both running the ball and catching passes. Age could be a big factor in deciding Tolbert’s future though as he is now 30; usually the age that marks the beginning of the end for running backs. And with plenty of wear on his tires, that could be an issue that determines if he stays or goes. Tolbert is another player who says he wants to remain in Carolina though and the hometown discount he took back in 2012 to join the Panthers could be a bigger reason to keep the “Toldozer” around.

Prediction: Stays, 3-year deal

 

Roman Harper – S

Yet another member of the Carolina secondary is set to hit free agency with one of their biggest leaders in Roman Harper. The veteran safety has been a starter for both seasons he’s been with the team and has been a solid contributor through both campaigns. The Panthers do have a young, eventual successor in Tre Boston to pair with the established Kurt Coleman and Harper’s continued liability in pass coverage and increasing age (33-years-old) could mean his days with Carolina are number or over entirely. Like Tillman, this decision will truly weigh how much his leadership can make up for his decline in performance.

Prediction: Goes

 

Jerricho Cotchery – WR

Outside of Norman and Remmers, many of the big free agency decisions for the Panthers will be with veterans whose leadership has been a positive impact on the team and if their performance can hold up for another season. Jerricho Cotchery joined the team before 2014 as a veteran mentor and reliable go-to guy for Cam Newton in the clutch and he has performed solidly in that role grabbing 87 passes for 1,065 yards and four scores in two seasons with the team. This year he was a steady contributor again within a crew of mediocre receiving options and has been a key in helping young receivers like Kelvin Benjamin, Philly Brown and Devin Funchess develop. His Super Bowl performance left a bitter memory though as he committed three uncharacteristic drops which could have very well been the difference in the game. With Benjamin returning and Brown and Funchess likely to see more and more opportunities, the now crowded receiving corps could force Cotchery out of the picture.

Prediction: Goes

 

Brad Nortman – P

It may seem minor at first glance, but the impeding free agency of punter Brad Nortman is one to watch this offseason. In four seasons with the team, Nortman has enjoyed solid success ranking largely in the middle of the pack in net average (39.9), touchback percentage (7.6) and punts inside the 20-yard line (22.8). Nothing that Nortman has done has been spectacular as he tends to mix the good with the bad kicking a booming deep ball one drive and a short line drive the next. Of course, an average punter is still better than half of the league and even with decent numbers and production, Nortman will likely join fellow “Bomb Squad” member Graham Gano with a multi-year contract extension.

Prediction: Stays, 3-year deal

 

Cortland Finnegan – CB

A replacement veteran signed midway through the season; he started in the slot and played well but was likely nothing more than a stop-gap solution for 2015.

Prediction: Goes

 

Kyle Love – DT

An unsung contributor and depth option in the interior of the Panthers’ defensive line, Love has enjoyed success in limited opportunities and should get a short term deal to stick around and battle for the third defensive tackle spot.

Prediction: Stays, 2-year deal

 

Joe Webb – QB/WR/ST

With the versatility to play quarterback, wide receiver and running back and be a force on every punt and kick unit, Webb should stick around for at least a little while longer.

Prediction: Stays, 1-year deal

 

J.J. Jansen – LS

One of the most reliable long snappers in the game last season, there’s no reason why Jansen won’t be re-signed, keeping the “Bomb Squad” together.

Prediction: Stays, 4-year deal

 

Stephen Hill – WR

An interesting project that Carolina took on last season, Hill was hyped as being ready to contribute this year until an ACL injury ended those hopes. If he accepts a low-level deal he should be back and ready to compete for a roster spot in 2016.

Prediction: Stays, 2-year deal

 

Frank Alexander – DE

Alexander has shown promise throughout his young career but suspensions and injuries have hampered his development and after this latest year-long suspension for a third substance abuse offence, the end of the line may be here.

Prediction: Goes

Ben Jacobs – LB/ST

Jacobs has stuck around as a valuable special team’s player, rarely seeing time on defense. The addition of David Mayo last season and his emergence as a versatile special teamer could number Jacobs’ days.

Prediction: Goes

 

Fernando Velasco, Chris Scott, Amini Silatolu, Tyrone Green – OL

Almost every Panthers backup offensive lineman will head to the free agent market this offseason. Each has been reliable in spot starts here and there. Silatolu filled in solidly for Andrew Norwell for multiple games this season but tore his ACL and was lost while Velasco and Scott saw even more limited time.

Prediction: All Go

Twitter: @TheKenanGoyette


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