Carolina Panthers: A Perspective On Free Agency Part One
By De White
As the offseason quickly approaches, the Carolina Panthers have already made several noteworthy moves in the hopes of becoming a younger, faster, and better quality team. With several starting players departing, a team leader cut, and a less than alluring amount of cap space to work with, the team has confidently followed its own path to relevancy.
Things are certainly different for the Panthers this time around with a more than competent group of men and women leading the team into a new era of Panther Sports. The team is under the careful eye of new owner David Tepper, who has seemingly become a Godsend and voice for Panther fans who have anticipated change and a fresh feel. Also, the new era has been helped by adding multiple successful men and women in ideal positions to increase off the field financial goals.
The team is also managed by a returning, yet enhanced general manager in Marty Hurney for his second year. The same gentleman who gave career Panther Charles Johnson a massive contract extension (who was later cut by Hurney) but drafted several Panther superstars (Julius Peppers, Thomas Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, Ryan Kalil, Jonathan Steward, Cam Newton, and Luke Kuechly) . Hurney returned from a five year absence to oversee the additions of D.J. Moore, Donte Jackson, Ian Thomas, Jermaine Carter Jr., and Eric Reid, all players who are projected to have a greater impact on the 2019-20 roster.
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Norv Turner also returns for his second hear in Carolina as the Offensive Coordinator. Though the Panthers finished with a disappointing 7-9 record, Turner was instrumental in many of the successes show by the team. Attributed with helping Newton’s completion percentage go up, Turner also saw improvement from Moore, Curtis Samuel, Thomas, and a huge sophomore leap from Christian McCaffrey.
To finish with the higher ups, the Panthers will be returning to the familiarity of Head Coach in Ron Rivera. Rivera, a two-time Coach of the Year has been labeled a top-10 coach in the league, and thus far in his career has earned fairly more compliments than criticisms as the team’s coach. Though the team has suffered highs and lows under his vision, Rivera remains an asset to the team as a former player who specializes in defense as well as a coach who has created a positive and competitive atmosphere that has been publicly noted by current and former players.
As good as the organization can be, the plan remains the same each year, to compete for and win a championship. While the team continues to rebuild a depleted defense and offensive line, they have also begun to do things their own way. With the acquisitions of Moore, Jackson, and Reid, the Panthers became a younger and more physical team in ways previously missed. Moore has mirrored Steve Smith Sr.’s excitement, Jackson to Josh Norman’s swagger, and Reid to Kurt Coleman’s power and leadership. All are players who, given previous ownership and management, wouldn’t possibly be on the team. Under Tepper, Hurney, and Rivera, the team seems intent on creating its new identity by shedding the older style of play as well as its elder players.
Recently, the team was possibly linked to the since-signed free safety Eric Weddle due to team need and Rivera’s link as a coach during part of Weddle’s career with the San Diego Chargers. Yet, the team decided to stand pat as Weddle returned to California with the Los Angeles Rams. Truthfully, it makes sense. Though Weddle wouldn’t have commanded much money, having the fortitude to pass on an upper tier free agent says that the team plans to continue the path of youth. Though they could still sign a player, the belief is that the Panthers are looking for players who can grow with the team and become long-term investments rather than rentals.
There are more than adequate players in free agency who could start now in Tyran Mathieu (27), HaHa Clinton-Dix (26), Tre Boston (27), Adrian Amos (26), and even George Iloka (29). Each player has many seasons worth of experience and knowledge of the defensive side of football, yet the Panthers could elect to look to the future in the draft or with second-year player Rashaan Gaulden. Given the financial situation of the team, Mathieu and Amos would immediately be off limits, and with wanting to get younger would eliminate Iloka as well. In the draft, Juan Thornhill or Taylor Rapp could be possibilities.
The team also made news with the release of longtime Panther Thomas Davis. A three-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Davis (35) has long been a leader on a defensively led Panther team but after the 2018 collapse and the age of the veteran star, the Panthers decided that it would be time to move on from the 13-year vet. But replacing Davis and his production has proven to be an in-house project as Shaq Thompson aims to man the vacated position. The trick is to replace Thompson’s vacated spot, and if the team shifts to a 3-4 defense, then they to add another inside linebacker as well.
The Panthers will look to include Jermaine Carter on the weak side and perhaps draft a player to insert into the second inside position. Yet, the new defense brings more questions. The Panthers have widely used a 3-4 defense for the length of Luke Kuechly and Thompson’s careers, and would benefit more from having a solid veteran linebacker with experience in that particular system. Imagine having an experienced vet to help Kuechly breakdown offensive plays pre-snap, assisting in directing the back seven as well as giving him and other players a smaller more defined zone to control. As many free agent linebackers as there are, there are only about three linebackers who could play inside or outside linebacker that would be great additions with their skill or play. Clay Matthews is a complete linebacker who could help anywhere in the linebacker core at 33, and Kwon Alexander (25) and C.J. Mosley (27) have immense upside though could cost the team more money than they could reasonably afford. In the draft, the team would hope that a Devin White, Mack Wilson, Te’Von Coney, or even a Germaine Pratt would be available.
Though these are only two positions in which the Panthers will look to sure up in this year’s draft or free agency, the Panthers should continue to take the road less traveled and look towards the future rather than continue to lease older veterans every few season.