Could Nick Easton solve the Panthers’ protection problems?

Dean Jones
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Nick Easton
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Nick Easton /

Could free-agent offensive lineman Nick Easton be a solid option for the Carolina Panthers heading into the 2021 season?

There is a growing sense of concern about just what the Carolina Panthers have on their offensive line heading into the 2021 season. Outside of Taylor Moton and perhaps center Matt Paradis, some real questions need to be answered if the team has serious ambitions of mounting a surprise postseason push in the second year under head coach Matt Rhule.

Pro Football Network ranked Carolina’s offensive line options 31st out of 32 teams prior to the campaign. The Panthers did bring in some young talent such as Brady Christensen and Deonte Brown to potentially provide assistance, although it’s hard to tell whether this will be more of a long-term plan with both until we see them on the gridiron.

According to Spotrac, the Panthers have $10.33 million in salary-cap space remaining, which gives them some breathing space if they want to acquire some veteran reinforcements before competitive action begins in Week 1 against the New York Jets.

Good options at this time of year are normally scarce.

However, the current financial climate across the league means there are more enticing propositions remaining on the free-agent market than would normally be available in pre-COVID times.

Nick Easton has the versatility loved by the Carolina Panthers.

If the Panthers opt to go in this particular direction, then Nick Easton is someone that might be of assistance at a very good price. The former undrafted free agent out of Harvard has the sort of versatility Carolina loves in their new recruits and he is already familiar with the NFC South having spent the last two seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

One could argue that Carolina’s problems won’t be on the interior. But rather at the pivotal position of left tackle.

This would be nothing short of a catastrophe for new quarterback Sam Darnold as he looks to hit the ground running. Although Easton cannot occupy the blindside, he has experience at both guard and center, which would provide valuable, quality depth at the very least.

Whether the Panthers are waiting for a prominent player to be released when final roster cuts are made down the line or not is unclear. They also have the option of going bold in the trade market instead of taking their chances with Cam Erving, who hasn’t shown enough to convince anybody he can be counted upon at one of the most important positions on the field.

Easton played 562 snaps for the Saints in 2020, giving up three penalties and two sacks on his way to a modest 59.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. This all comes down to whether Carolina is content allowing youth to potentially improve protection because their veteran options leave a lot to be desired.

It’s unlikely Easton is after anything more than that the vet minimum or slightly above at this stage. Players have been willing to sign short-term deals this offseason in pursuit of grander riches when the cap soars in 2022, and this bears more significance at this stage of the preparation period leading up to training camp.

Perhaps fans are just worrying over nothing.

Even though the evidence damning.

Carolina’s coaching staff know more about their options than anybody, so they’ve given few reasons not to be trusted so far.

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This season will tell us much more, obviously. But there are worse options to consider than Easton if the Panthers decide to bring in a veteran that could solidify things right from the outset.