The Carolina Panthers have tucked their Bank of America season into the closet until 2011. They finish out against the Steelers and the Falcons before closing up shop completely on the field. While the season may be two weeks from being over, there is still plenty of news and to be honest, it gets a whole lot more interesting as the league new year approaches in March.
Consider there is the Playoffs and the Super Bowl that we all watch. Then, there is a short month of team re-signing and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis before the league heads into the 2011 NFL season on March 3rd. Provided they work out the CBA of course.
The start of the league year will not officially kick-off the Panthers 2011 season. That will occur when a new HC is names sometime between the end of the regular season and the Super Bowl. But that league season start will be the first steps in seeing new faces brought to Charlotte for the 2011 season. Free agency has as much draw these days as anything else the NFL does. For the Panthers, the start of free agency begins as soon as the new HC takes over. In house free agents are those players on the list that you control. You can decide to re-sign or pass on your rostered players who will be eligible to leave in March. This year, the Panthers top name is DeAngello Williams.
DeAngelo Williams – Williams was slowed by injury this season but that is not what will keep him off the roster next season. The 27 year old runner has two youngsters who took over at the position this season. Second year pro Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. With both coming back next season, the Panthers may opt to look elsewhere for a depth back. Stewart has proven he can play at this level and is very productive while Goodson provides the team a change of pace back. With Williams, it comes down to money and the Panthers may not be willing to pay the money to a returning veteran who missed time with injury and likely won’t start. That however will depend deeply on who comes in to coach the team.
Matt Moore - To say that the QB play has been abysmal this year would be an understatement. Moore will enter the off-season looking at free agency as nothing more than a place to catch on as a back-up. He simply isn’t starting material and there are no holes anywhere in the league that will provide him that opportunity…even as a bridge QB to a rookie. In Carolina, the Panthers will address their QB situation in the draft and likely with their first pick. With Jimmy Clausen signed through 2014, the Panthers may be content on letting Clausen compete with the rookie and let it roll for next season. Still, when Moore figures that his best chance to start next year is in Carolina, he may get re-signed to the squad. I would be surprised if he were signed before that.
Dante Rosario and Jeff King – Two of the Panthers TE’s are free agents after the season but neither provide the team a sure handed starter. Both will likely hit the free agent market and one may return when they find interest slim.
Ryan Kalil - Centers are hard to find in this league and starting centers are valued on the open market. Kalil is sold at the position and would draw interest from a number of teams in the off-season. The Panthers will likely try and lock him up for another three or four years depending on his contract demands. At 25 years of age, there is still a lot of football in Kalil and a lot of growth potential as well. A second alternate to the Pro-Bowl last year, Kalil is ready to progress.
Charles Johnson – Leading the team with 9.5 sacks, Johnson is making himself know around the NFC. While he has a lot of improvement needed there is little doubt that he is becoming a force on the outside. DE’s are often prime meat on the free agent market and DE’s who can get to a QB are in more demand. Johnson is becoming a game changer and that should be a priority for the Panthers. If they don’t sign him before the start of free agency they will likely lose him. Johnson could be the teams franchise tag this season.
Others: The Carolina Panthers are set to take a defensive hit this year in free agency as Thomas Davis, Jamar Williams, James Anderson, Ed Johnson, Nick Hayden, Richard Marshall, and CJ Wilson are all scheduled to be free agents.
Of course this is barring my missing anyone who signed throughout the season.