Extend Kawann Short
The Carolina Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on Star Lotulelei buying them another year and making the contract negotiations with Kawann Short, the pressing need this offseason. Short is coming off a career year with 11.5 sacks and earning two NFC Defensive Player of the Month awards as well as being named to the first-team All-Pro as well as the Pro Bowl.
The former second round pick has developed a reputation as being one of the premier pass rushers from the tackle position and the impressive part is that he may have only scratched the surface of his potential. He is explosive and disruptive in the middle and is the perfect compliment to Lotulelei, who is more of a run-stuffer.
The organization is coming out of a rather failed public negotiation with cornerback Josh Norman. However, GM Dave Gettleman may be willing to open the wallet a little more for Short based on the fact that he believes successful defense is built along the line. This is the number one priority for the Panthers this offseason.
Extend Ron Rivera's Contract
The Carolina Panthers have a number of players who are coming up to the end of their contract but there head coach is also in line for another extension. Ron Rivera signed a three year contract extension in 2014 and is under contract through 2017 however the organization shouldn't wait until next year to lock him up longer.
Rivera is the fourth head coach in the franchise's history and currently has the best winning percentage of the four (.596). He not only is the best head coach ever for the Panthers he has become one of the best in the league, leading his team to three straight NFC South division titles, as well as a trip to Super Bowl 50. He also has won the AP Coach of the Year award twice in the last three years (2013, 2015).
During the NFL Combine, it was reported that the two sides had begun contract negotiations but nothing has been mentioned since. This isn't necessarily a bad sign as the organization had more pressing needs with free agency and preparing for the NFL Draft. Now that the team has a little more time, it will be important to agree to a new contract.
The team will have plenty of things to do in the office but on the field, the focus needs to be to get completely healthy. The Panthers have a number of players recovering from surgeries including Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill (ACL surgery), Bene Benwikere (fractured leg), Luke Kuechly (shoulder surgery) and Thomas Davis (broken forearm). Now none of these players are expected to miss any time but it will be important for them to rest and be fully recovered by the start of the season.
These five players aren't the only players the team needs to worry about because with the team making it to the Super Bowl, they are tied for the shortest offseason with the Denver Broncos. The Panthers played 19 games last year and this can take a toll on a player's body. Ron Rivera recognized this and pushed the start of offseason workouts as late as possible to help the recovery process.
The organization though will need to be mindful of this during the offseason as they begin preparation for the 2016 season.
Develop Gameplan to Incorporate Kelvin Benjamin
The Panthers lost their number one wide receiver early in training camp for the entire 2015 season. They didn't appear to miss a beat though and finished the regular season as the highest scoring offense in the regular season.
The success the coaching staff had last year may deter them from drastically changing the offense however they are adding a former first round pick to the lineup with Benjamin. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula will have the tough task of using the formula that was incredibly successful last year but making sure one of the rising stars at wide receiver has the opportunity to make his impact on the game.