4 key questions the Panthers must answer ahead of 2023 free agency

(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Scott Fitterer
(Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports) Scott Fitterer /
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Carolina Panthers
(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) Shaq Thompson /

How will the Carolina Panthers handle Shaq Thompson?

One of the most difficult conundrums facing the Carolina Panthers before free agency centers around Shaq Thompson. The veteran linebacker’s importance remains great after another good campaign, but there are obviously financial elements to consider before anything becomes final.

While Thompson remains an asset on the field and within the locker room, his mammoth $24.46 million cap hit has to come down heading into the final year of his deal. Giving him a team-friendly extension and kicking the can down the road should be discussed, but a situation could emerge where the former first-round pick becomes a cap casualty along the way.

Releasing or trading Thompson comes with a cap saving of around $13 million. This is a significant sum to strengthen key position groups ahead of the new campaign.

Carolina cutting Thompson loose leaves a gaping hole at the defensive second level. Especially considering new coordinator Ejiro Evero likes to deploy a creative 3-4 base that depends on stability from their middle linebackers with pressure coming from all angles.

In an ideal world, an agreement can be reached that keeps Thompson around. But the NFL is a business at the end of the day, so there should be no sentiment attached despite the one-time Washington star being one of the few remaining players left from Carolina’s glory days in the mid-2010s.

Thompson wants to stay. Even if this might not be viable upon further examination.

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