Can the Carolina Panthers Sign Josh Norman to a Long-Term Deal?
The negotiations between the Panthers and Josh Norman has been hanging over this offseason like a dark cloud. This is arguably the one move that can have the biggest impact on the team in 2016 and beyond.
Earlier this month, the team placed the franchise tag on Norman which kept the star cornerback off the free agent market and limited his ability to negotiate with a new team. However, this doesn't necessarily mean Norman will be with the team at the start of the season. He actually could hold out into the regular season and still meet the terms of the franchise tag.
This wouldn't necessarily be wise for Norman to hold out into the season because he once again would be playing for a massive contract after the season. However, it wouldn't be a surprise for him to sit out training camp and return days before the season.
This is obviously worst case scenario and reports have already come out that the two sides will meet in April. The two sides have until July 15th to work out a deal but they may be motivated to get something done next month.
If a new deal isn't struck before the NFL Draft though, it may motivate Dave Gettleman and the Panthers to draft a cornerback in the early rounds of this draft.
Should the Panthers Use the Fifth-Year Option on Star Lotulelei?
The Panthers will have until May sometime to decide whether or not to use the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Star Lotulelei but it may make sense to at least have an idea of what they are going to do prior to the NFL Draft.
Lotulelei was the Panthers' first round pick in 2013 and since he was taken in the first round, the team has the option to extend his rookie contract an additional year. This would keep him with the team through the 2017 season.
This should be a fairly easy decision, and one that I believe the Panthers will make to keep the defensive tackle. He has been surpassed by his draft mate Kawann Short however he is still one of the better tackles in the league. The Panthers would also provide themselves an extra season to work out a long-term deal if they decide to do that.
If the Panthers decide they don't want to keep Lotulelei, it could move the defensive tackle position higher on the priority list for team in the NFL Draft. Gettleman talked at the NFL Combine about how this draft is deep with defensive linemen and they could potentially find his replacement this year.
Can They Work out an Extension for Kawann Short?
The Panthers' will also need to make a decision on their other starting defensive tackle, Kawann Short. The defensive tackle from Purdue was drafted the same year as Lotulelei, however since he was not a first round pick, the team does not have the fifth-year option with him.
Short is coming off a career season that included a Pro Bowl selection, a first-team All-Pro selection, thanks in part to 11 sacks in the regular season. If he has another season in 2016 like he did last year, he could be on his way to a monster contract.
The Panthers, similar to Norman, should try and work on an extension prior to the NFL Draft. This could help the team figure out where Short believes his contract should be and whether or not the team can come to an agreement. If they believe his demands will be too high, it would give the team one more reason to use the option on Lotulelei and take a long look at the prospects at defensive tackle.
Are there any free agents left to help this offense?
The Panthers had the highest scoring offense, returning all their starters as well as getting their first round pick from 2014 (Kelvin Benjamin) back from an ACL injury. However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement and the Panthers front office need to decide if that improvement will come from free agency.
Most likely, if the team is going to make any moves it will be at the wide receiver position. The return of Benjamin is a huge boost for this team but they could still use a wide receiver who can play in the slot with the team releasing Jerricho Cotchery earlier this offseason.
There are plenty of options on the market that might not cost the team a great deal. Veterans like Leonard Hankerson, Brandon LaFell or even Roddy White could be a nice fit in this offense and replace what they lost with Cotchery no longer with the team.
However, none of these players would change the team's plans if they have a wide receiver on the board that they feel can help this team. This is one question that the Panthers may wait until after the Draft to address, to see how things fall at the end of April.