Panthers Norwell and Lotulelei to test free agency
The Carolina Panthers opted to not use the franchise tag on any player this season…
Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney went on the record to discuss his intentions of keeping kicker Graham Gano for next season. The free agent to be ended up signing a lucrative four-year extension to assure he remains a part of the Panthers special teams for the foreseeable future.
As a likely candidate for the franchise tag, his new contract opened the door for Hurney to use the tag on either offensive lineman Andrew Norwell or defensive lineman Star Lotulelei. Both have been significant contributors for Carolina over the past few seasons and each is set for a significant pay increase.
Whether or not that new check comes with a Panthers logo on it remains to be seen. Carolina allowed the 4pm ET Tuesday deadline for tagging a player to pass without taking any action. Now, both Panthers will be eligible to negotiate with other teams when the free agency period opens one week from today.
Considering the assigned values of the tag for their respective positions it may have been in the Panthers best interest to allow both an opportunity to test the market but knowing Carolina would like to keep one also plays into the players’ favor.
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Each can now play off the other in addition to the Panthers hopes of keeping one, as their agents negotiate with other teams. Knowing a qualifying offer will likely be extended it should give the players an idea of which one the team is currently targeting.
If neither is retained then Hurney is going to have his hands full filling two pivotal positions on either line. While former first-round pick Vernon Butler is considered the front-runner to replace Lotulelei, his injury history is concerning along with inexperience as an every down player.
On offense, losing a starting guard while knowing the veteran center is also on his way out after the season creates an emergency up front. Note worthy free agent replacements include Justin Pugh from the New York Giants or Jack Mewhort in Indianapolis but both are older than Norwell.
Next: Panthers 2018 Mock Draft 2.0
The next month should be entertaining while considerably shaping the draft board for the Panthers in regards to which position warrants a first-round focus.