The Panthers have 16 players that will become free agents this year. However, none of the guys on the list would be viewed as guys that Carolina has to retain. There’s a couple players I’m sure the Panthers would like to have back as far as depth goes, but all these guys are expendable. That’s a good thing too, because Carolina spent a lot of money last offseason on retaining a couple potential free agents (Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams) and we’re also active in the free agent market.
Here’s a list of the players who could become free agents: Quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker/defensive lineman Antwan Applewhite, offensive lineman Mackenzy Bernadeau, linebacker Dan Connor, linebacker Omar Gaither, cornerback Cletis Gordon, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, long-snapper J.J. Jansen, receiver Legedu Naanee, linebacker Jordan Senn, tight end Jeremy Shockey, receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (exclusive rights), tight end Richie Brockel (exclusive rights), cornerback R.J. Stanford (exclusive rights), linebacker Thomas Williams (exclusive rights), linebacker Jason Phillips (restricted) and guard Geoff Schwartz (restricted).
Antwan Applewhite will be a guy that coach Rivera would love to have back. He played for Rivera in San Diego and is a versatile player, who can play defensive end in a 4-3 defense and linebacker in a 3-4. I’m sure the Panthers will also keep either Schwartz or Hangartner in order to maintain some depth on the offensive line, but I don’t see them resigning both of them. I really hope Rivera decides to let Naanee go in order to allow Brandon LaFell and David Gettis to develop into the playmakers that they’ve shown glimpses of being. LaFell improved dramatically this year and it would be interesting to see what he could do if he was given the opportunity to catch 60-70 balls a season.
It would be really nice to have Dan Connor backing up Jon Beason again; he might be the best backup linebacker in the league and is great in stopping the run. However, I’m sure Connor will be searching for a new home where he can be the full time starter. The Panthers might elect to sign Jeremy Shockey to another one-year deal, but I don’t think they’ll spend to much money on him, seeing as how they already resigned Garry Barnidge as insurance. They could also feel the need to keep Derek Anderson around as a backup and serve as a mentor to Cam Newton for another year, but they might be looking to upgrade that position in case Cam happens to sustain an injury.
The good news about this year’s team is that there aren’t any key guys available for free agency. Last year proved to be quite stressful, as the contracts of both DeAngelo Williams and Charles Johnson had expired. However, Jerry Richardson spent his money where he had to and kept two major cornerstones of the team intact. This offseason Richardson and company can breathe a little easier as their job of retaining personnel won’t be nearly as difficult as the previous year.