Free Agency and the Draft – Offensive line

Most everyone agrees that the Panthers' biggest needs on the offensive side of the ball are offensive linemen, and possibly wide receiver and/or running back. The tight end position could be upgraded, but the previously mentioned positions must be addressed first. <br><br> Luckily for the Panthers, this is a very good year for offensive linemen both in free agency and in the draft.

The best offensive tackle that may become a free agent in the upcoming months is Orlando Pace. The Panthers could pursue him and consider moving Jordan Gross back to right tackle where he played very well his rookie season, but landing Pace will require paying out an enormous sum of money which the Panthers are wisely unlikely to do on the aging and often maligned tackle. Barrett Brooks (Steelers, 6-4/325) could be brought in as a stop-gap as he has starting experience having started 62 of his 102 games, but he is an aging tackle with limited upside and the Panthers already have one of those in Todd Fordham. Ryan Diem (Colts, 6-6/331) is a popular name being brought up lately. He has ideal size, he is a young player, he is an integral part of a very good Colts' offensive line and he has started 53 of his 60 games. However, his youth, starting experience, and the fact that Pace is likely to be retained by the Rams means that Diem may find himself to be the most coveted tackle in free agency and this may drive him out of the Panthers' price range. One other young option is Floyd Womack (Seahawks, 6-4/333). He has started 22/41 games giving him some starting experience, he has nice size, and he can't be any worse than Matt Willig.

The Panthers also need to find an answer at right guard since it is unclear whether Nelson will be able to return from his hip injuries. Fortunately, guard could potentially be the deepest position in free agency this year. Marco Rivera (Packers, 6-4/307) is a mauler who is used to run blocking in Green Bay's offense. He is aging, but could provide a few more years of service. If Favre retires, Green Bay may be willing to let him go to free up some cap room to begin rebuilding; however, if Favre returns, they will probably bring back Rivera in hopes of competing for a Super Bowl. Joe Andruzzi (Patriots, 6-3/312) is another very good guard who could provide a few more years of service, but the Patriots will probably try to keep their offensive line intact. Either one of these two guards would be an immediate upgrade if available. However, there are some other options available. Jermane Mayberry (Eagles, 6-4/325) has started 96 of 112 games and at 31 years old could provide a few more years of service. Cosey Coleman (Buccaneers, 6-4/322) is a young prospect who has started 63 of 72 games and could provide an upgrade and at the same time weaken a divisional opponent.

If the Panthers do not address their need for a starting quality tackle, then this need will certainly be met on the first day of the draft. The two best tackles in the draft are Alex Barron (Florida State, 6-6/316) and Jammal Brown (Oklahoma, 6-6/313). Both have ideal size and good athleticism; Brown may be the better player at the present, but Barron probably has more upside. If the Panthers still need a starting quality tackle by draft day and one or both of these guys are still on the board when we pick at #14, look for us to nab one of them. However, both could be gone by the time the Panthers pick. However, this does not mean it is time to panic. There are several good tackles that should be available in the second or third rounds. Michael Munoz (Tennessee, 6-6/315) has good size and is a very good tackle with excellent pedigree, but he has injury concerns. Adam Terry (Syracuse, 6-8/300) is an intriguing prospect who could be had in the second or third round who has an excellent frame but needs to add bulk. Rob Pettite (Pitt, 6-6/330) also has excellent size, excels in the run game, and could be available when we pick in the third, but he may project as a guard at the next level.

The best guard in the draft is Elton Brown (Virginia, 6-6/335) and he is made even better by the fact that he may also be able to play tackle. He is a huge, athletic mauler who drove the UVA running game this season and dominated opponents. To be able to land Brown, we would have to spend our first round pick. David Baas (Michigan, 6-5/307) is an All-American guard who also excels at run blocking and could be available when we pick in the second. C.J. Brooks (Maryland, 6-5/311) is the second best guard in the ACC and has good size and athleticism. He should be available when we pick in the second and could be available in the third. Marcus Johnson (Ole Miss, 6-6/310) is a tough nosed guard with some athleticism that should be available in the third. Chris Kenoeatu (Utah, 6-3.5/341) is a wild-card here. He is a huge guard who anchored the line of a very good Utah offense. His size and strength are unquestioned, but I've only seen him play once and conditioning could be an issue.

With Jeff Mitchell's cap hit being too high, his contract status is in question. Hopefully, he can restructure and most believe he will, but regardless, he is aging and we need to begin grooming a backup since Nelson is questionable to return. This would best be done through the draft in my opinion. Jason Brown (North Carolina, 6-3/312) is the best center in college football. He is a dominating blocker who excels at making changes at the line and gets to the second level very well. He would be a solid second round pick. Ben Wilkerson (LSU, 6-4/300) is another standout center as is Vince Carter (Oklahoma, 6-3/294) and both could be available in the third.

The Panthers should target Ryan Diem and one of the several capable guards in free agency. If they can land one or both of these positions in free agency, this would give them more freedom in the draft. It is important to get at least one starting quality offensive lineman in free agency to add some solid experience to the right side of the line, as it is certain we need to make changes at both right tackle and right guard. It would be a disaster to start two rookies on the same side of the offensive line. With that said, if the need for a tackle still exists come draft day, they should take Jammal Brown or Alex Barron. If the need for a guard still exists, they should take Elton Brown. Either of these guys would require the Panthers' first round pick, but either would provide immediate help.

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