Panthers' Free Agents
Norman is coming off a career season and is the best cornerback on the market and one of the top free agents overall. The Panthers will have two options over the next few weeks on how to keep him in Charlotte. The first option would be to work out a long term deal with Norman however if they are not they would still have the franchise tag available.
If the team does decide to use the tag, it would mean they are offering Norman a one-year deal worth over $13 million dollars and not allow him to reach free agency. The two sides would then have until mid-July to work out a long term contract but if they are not able to by that deadline, they would not be able to discuss a long term deal until after the 2016 season.
Meanwhile, Tillman is towards the end of his career and while he did play well this past season, he suffered an ACL tear at the end of the year. Due to the timing of the injury, it doesn't seem likely that he would be ready to play at the start of the season. This means the team will most likely be looking for a new cornerback this offseason but potentially could bring Tillman back midseason if he is able to recover from his injury and still wants to play.
Free Agent Cornerbacks
Scout.com's Rank: #8 Cornerback
If the Panthers' are looking for a more long term answer, Patrick Robinson might be just that. At 28 years of age, he has plenty of football in front of him and could create a relatively young core of Norman, Robinson and Bene Benwikere.
Robinson played the first five years of his career with the New Orleans Saints before joining the San Diego Chargers before this past season, where he started 10 games for them last year. He finished with 49 tackles, eight passes defended but only one interception.
Robinson signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Chargers last year. If the team can get him to sign a two or three-year deal at a similar salary, it might be that low-cost gamble for a veteran the team has made the past few seasons.
Scout.com's Rank: #20 Cornerback
Greg Toler is an interesting option for the Panthers and seems to be more in line with the free agents they have targeted the past few years. GM Dave Gettleman has signed players like Tillman, Antoine Cason, and Drayton Florence over the years and has had some success with this strategy.
Toler started 10 games for the Indianapolis Colts a season ago and finished with 51 tackles, 10 passes defended and one forced fumble. He missed the first four games of the season due to a neck injury and then missed two more games towards the end of the year. Injuries is something that has plagued the 31-year old veteran as he has yet to play a full season in his seven-year career.
This may allow the Panthers to sign Toler to a cap friendly deal which would help create more room under the cap for a new deal for Norman.
Scout.com's Rank: NR
This is an intriguing option for the Panthers as Antonio Cromartie was recently released by the NY Jets after a down season during his second stint with the team. The 31-year old had three consecutive Pro Bowl seasons prior to 2015 and saw a streak of six straight seasons with at least three interceptions come to an end. He actually finished the year with no interceptions however did have 12 passes broken up.
Of the three free agents, Cromartie will most likely command the most money on the free agent market. He also is probably the most unlikely of the players in this group. He had a down season with the Jets but has played at a high level for a number of seasons prior to that. If the Panthers pitch him on the idea of playing on a team that looks poised to make another deep playoff run it may be enough to convince Cromartie to join the team for a reasonable deal.
The Panthers' offseason plan will be predicated by how they handle Josh Norman and his impending free agency. I believe the front office will not allow him to get to free agency and at a minimum will use the franchise tag.
However, due to Tillman's injury the team will most likely be in the market for one free agent cornerback. Dave Gettleman has never shown an interest in spending big money here and once again will be looking for a player who can be signed to a cap friendly deal for a season or two.
For a full list of free agents, click here.