Pat Elflein is not the answer to Panthers’ protection problem
By Dean Jones
Offensive lineman Pat Elflein was the Carolina Panthers’ first signing of free agency, but he is not the answer to their interior protection problem.
The Carolina Panthers made a surprising move to kick off their free agency period in 2021 with the signing of Pat Elflein. General manager Scott Fitterer claimed he was going to take a patient approach to recruitment, so allocating the former third-round pick with a large chunk of change considering his recent production raised more than a few eyebrows.
According to ESPN’s NFL insider Adam Schefter, the Panthers gave Elflein a three-year, $13.5 million deal including $6 million fully guaranteed on the opening day of the legal tampering period. This financial commitment for a player who hasn’t exactly been a revelation during his time in the NFL represents a massive gamble by Carolina, but much will depend on how the contract is structured.
Take it from a guy who’s watched a lot of Minnesota Vikings football over the year.
Elflein is not the answer to Carolina’s interior protection problem.
Pat Elflein has struggled during his NFL career.
Considering how much Minnesota also struggled in this particular area of the field in 2020, for them to put Elflein on the waiver wire was a damning indictment of what Mike Zimmer thought of the Ohio State product. He was picked up by the New York Jets for the latter stages of the campaign but failed to do enough to warrant a longer-term commitment at the money Carolina offered.
Whether a change of scenery in Joe Brady’s scheme will rejuvenate Elflein’s career is up for debate. There is enough film to suggest that he is not up to the required standard of a consistent starter and even if this is just a move to bolster depth, the Panthers have paid handsomely for it.
Of course, free agency is still in its infancy and there should be many twists and turns to come. Carolina also has the opportunity to bring in some additional reinforcements via the 2021 NFL Draft from what is expected to be a deep class for players at the position.
Elflein gave up two sacks and conceded one penalty from 418 snaps on his way to a dismal 48.0 grade from Pro Football Focus last season.
This has underwhelmed most of Carolina’s loyal fanbase who are growing tired of cheering on a losing team. If they are serious about making a bombshell move for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, getting an underachieving lineman such as Elflein isn’t the right way to go about it.
For the player, he must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when he got the call from agent Jonathan Feinsod about the Panthers’ offer. While Elflein had some nice moments as a run blocker in Minnesota and can play multiple positions, his pass protection is simply awful and this is the one problem that needs solving.
It’s just the start, obviously.
But when one considers the moves being made by those across the league, the Panthers are already playing catch-up.
Getting someone like Elflein right off the bat is also a concern. Have the prominent players on the free-agent market told the Panthers they’ve got no intention of joining them already? Or is this just looking for a potential under-the-radar veteran in the hope he can turn things around?
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Either way, this is not exactly the signing Carolina’s supporters had in mind. Elflein is further proof of just how much offensive line depth is concerning the Panthers and it’s going to take solid production on the field to silence the doubters.