Going into the current offseason, the Carolina Panthers have 21 free agents entering the market when the the 2014 NFL year starts. There are those high profile Panthers entering free agency, like Greg Hardy and Captain Munnerlyn, but there are a few players who I think will be locks for re-signing with the organization, actually five locks, and they go as followed.
Graham Gano – This is the biggest no-brainer for Gettleman. Graham Gano is the best placekicker to come to the Panthers since John Kasay, and I honestly think Gano is better player than Kasay. Gano is consistent and works well under pressure. Some of his field goals have already won the team a game, more specifically, the regular season game against the San Francisco 49ers. Not only that, but Gano has recorded the highest touchback percentage in the entire league since 1994 according to STATS LLC, a percentage of 79.7%.
Graham Gano is the safest bet when it comes to being re-signed, and the Panthers organization would be completely nuts to let him go. And not just Gano, but the organization would be completely out of their minds to let any of the specialists go. Brad Nortman, J.J. Jansen, and Graham Gano make one of the best specialist units in the entire NFL, and in my opinion, the best specialist unit the Panthers have ever had. But I think Gettleman knows Gano’s importance to the team so look for him to sign a nice 4-6 year contract over the offseason.
Mike Mitchell – Maybe the most exciting Panther in the secondary since Mike Minter, Mike Mitchell absolutely has to be locked up this year. The rock of the secondary unit, Mike Mitchell talks hard and hits even harder. He’s tied with Luke Kuechly for the most interceptions on the season with four, and all around had his best season of his career with the Carolina Panthers, after being drafted and playing for the Oakland Raiders for his first four years in the league. (And an Ohio University alum! Go Bobcats!)
The best player in the secondary unit, Mitchell lead the group to become the 6th ranked pass defense in the league. Not bad for a group of guys who earned the moniker, “The Legion of Whom.” Along with Gano, Mitchell is a must re-sign. With the return of Charles Godfrey, (hopefully!) Mitchell’s unit would be a force to be reckoned with in the backfield and Mitchell and Godfrey alone could be more than enough to make up for the weak Cornerback group. Mitchell turned a battered unit, struggling to find talent and consistency, into a very respectable NFL secondary with no premier CB’s or safeties. I’m sure Gettleman will sign Mitchell to a nice long contract as well and I really do think that Mitchell and Gano both will take substantial mark downs in their coming contracts.
Quintin Mikell – Another Safety, Quintin Mikell is a player who I think is a guarantee to wrapped up by the Panthers over the offseason. Like this year, I expect the Panthers will keep four safeties on the roster; Mikell, Mitchell, Godfrey, and Lester. (And Colin Jones as well, but he’s strictly been a Special Teams player for the past two years.)
I think, and I’m sure everyone would agree with me, that Mikell is out of his prime. His heyday is done and I see him here only for depth. However, Mikell supplies a ton of depth. Even out of his prime Mikell is still a starter on most teams and his lack of numbers this year is surprising to me, personally I thought Mikell had a great season. He put up three sacks, a career high, and helped solidify the 6th ranked pass defense in the league. Mikell definitely needs to scooped up again, though his contract shouldn’t be anywhere close to Mitchell’s, maybe a 2 or 3 year, 3 million dollar contract. His depth is needed and will be greatly appreciated.
Colin Cole – A little off base, but I think Colin Cole will be signed again in the offseason. Dave Gettleman loves his Hop Mollies and Colin Cole is the Websters definition of a Hog Mollie. The Panthers already have “Big” Dwan Edwards wrapped up till next year, so last year’s worry over him shouldn’t be a problem this year. (If it came down to either Dwan or Colin I’d take Dwan nine times out of ten.) Since Dwan is already here, I expect the Panthers to keep the same four Defensive Tackles on the roster again; Star, Kawann, Dwan, and Colin Cole.
Colin Cole isn’t exactly a sack monster, but he did give the D-Line an extra push. While Star takes up the most space on the Line, Cole definitely keeps people busy while the Kraken and Johnson do their work. Cole is a space eater, and Gettleman loves a good space eater. I think Cole will sign a small contract similar to Mikell’s, but for a smaller amount of money. Not many people will be after Cole come March and I think he knows this. I expect Cole to take a pretty big discount in his contract this offseason.
Ted Ginn – One of the three Wide Receivers entering free agency, I think Ted Ginn has the better chance of returning to Charlotte. He definitely was the most surprising part of the Panthers offense, though he has some work to do. Similar to LaFell, Ginn’s problems with dropping catches have been well documented, though his speed and unpredictability are more impressive than LaFell’s, who is his biggest competition.
He had the best season of his career with the Panthers and basically started a revival for his tenure in the NFL, after being labeled a flub coming out of the 2007 Draft. He offers a great advantage in the kick/punt return game, and gives the receiving unit an X-factor. Ted Ginn may not be signed, but I think the cards are definitely in his favor. I expect the organization to bring him back next year for another small deal in comparison to Cole’s and Mikell’s.
So those are my thoughts on the players who will be brought back into the organization, but who do you think will a be guaranteed re-signee in the offseason? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.