7 free agents the Carolina Panthers must aggressively pursue in 2023

(George Walker IV/The Tennessean via IMAGN Content Services) DeMarcus Walker
(George Walker IV/The Tennessean via IMAGN Content Services) DeMarcus Walker /
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Carolina Panthers
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) Leighton Vander Esch /

Carolina Panthers must pursue Leighton Vander Esch

  • Linebacker | Dallas Cowboys

Another year passed without the Carolina Panthers having any stability at the middle linebacker position. Things did progress when Shaq Thompson switched to the interior, but he could become a salary-cap casualty given the more than $13 million in savings involved with his projected departure.

Again, going down the college route might be beneficial long term. But if the Panthers want to trade up for their quarterback of choice, landing a free agent becomes more realistic.

If this is the path Carolina chooses, then Leighton Vander Esch is a name to watch. The former first-round selection bounced back in 2022 after a down year, providing the ferocity and run defense that’s been synonymous with the player since he entered the league in 2018.

Vander Esch doesn’t offer much from a pass-rushing standpoint. However, he is intelligent, fills gaps effortlessly, and has enough speed to close space to oncoming runners with relative comfort.

The Dallas Cowboys will likely make Vander Esch an offer to stay given his upturn in production. But if the one-time Boise State stud decides to hit the open market for a better offer, the Panthers might pounce in pursuit of finally finding a long-term successor to Luke Kuechly.