The Carolina Panthers' front office was busy preparing for the 2016 season even before this past season was over, signing eight players to future contracts at the end of January and then eight more this past week. A future contract allows teams to sign players who were not on any NFL team's 53-man roster at the end of the regular season and those players won't count towards the roster total until the start of free agency on March 9th.
Below is the list of the 16 players the Panthers have signed to future contracts this year.
The question now becomes which of these players has the best chance of making the Panthers' 53-man roster next year. There is talent in this group and these are the five players who have the best chance of making an impact in 2016.
5. Cobi Hamilton
The Panthers like big wide receivers for this offense like Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess who are 6'5" and 6'4" respectively. Cobi Hamilton fits the mold at 6'2" and 205 pounds and could be a solid addition to this offense.
Hamiliton had a breakout season while at the University of Arkansas in 2012 with 90 receptions, 1,335 receiving yards and five touchdowns and earned an All-SEC selection. He went into the 2013 NFL Draft and was drafted in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Bengals.
However, he has only been able to crack the 53-man roster once, which happened at the end of the 2014 season during his second stint with the Bengals. The Bengals then released him last summer and he was picked up by the Miami Dolphins, however they released him in September.
The wide receiver position is fairly deep for the Panthers, so Hamilton has an uphill battle but if he can start the offseason strong he will put himself in good position once training camp begins.
4. David Yankey
Another player who had a strong collegiate career but hasn't been able to translate that to the NFL is offensive guard David Yankey. The former Stanford Cardinal earned two All-American honors in 2012 and 2013 and was a fifth round pick by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent his rookie season on the Vikings 53-man roster but was cut in the final round of cuts by the team before last season.
One of the reasons Yankey has a good chance of making the roster is his versatility. While at Stanford he won All-American in 2013 as a left tackle and in 2014 as an offensive guard. If he is able to show this ability to play both offensive tackle and guard, it will help his chances making the roster.
3. David Foucault
David Foucalt has spent two seasons with the Panthers and is getting to the point that he needs to show he can be a contributor to this team. During his rookie season, Foucault started Week 10 at left tackle when Byron Bell was injured but it was clear he wasn't developed enough to start in the NFL.
He has spent a majority of his time since then on the practice squad, other than a call up in Week 4 this past season for depth at the tackle position. It will be interesting to see if Foucault has developed enough over the past season to crack the 53-man roster. There are questions at the tackle position with Mike Remmers being a restricted free agent and Foucault has a chance to earn a roster spot as a back-up at the position.
2. Damiere Byrd
There is one thing you can't teach and that is speed, something that Damiere Byrd has plenty of. The former South Carolina product showed that speed last preseason when he had 6 receptions, 67 receiving yards, including a touchdown in the second preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.
Byrd was cut during training camp but was brought back and spent the entire season on the practice squad. Hopefully the past season has given him an opportunity to learn this offense and develop the technique necessary to play the wide receiver position.
The position is deep for the Panthers with players like Benjamin, Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown and Brenton Bersin ahead of him on the depth chart. The speed could level the playing field a bit and definitely puts him in position to potential earn one of the roster spots.
1. Rakim Cox
The one player among the future contract signings who has the best chance to make the 53-man roster is Rakim Cox. The defensive end position could see plenty of changes for the Panthers with Charles Johnson and Jared Allen being potential cap casualties. This could present a great opportunity for Cox, who looked like he could potentially contribute based on his performance last preseason.
The Panthers signed the former Villanova Wildcat after he went through the Veteran Combine and impressed the team. He continued to impress through the offseason and in four preseason games had two sacks. He showed an incredible drive in the first preseason game against the Buffalo Bills and almost single-handedly stopped their final drive. He was cut prior to the season but the Panthers like what they saw and re-signed him to the practice squad.
Teams are always looking for pass rushers and if Cox has another strong offseason, and with the potential changes in the coming weeks, he has the best chance of making the Panthers' roster for the 2016 season among the future contract signings.