Scrutiny placed on Carolina Panthers' marquee free-agent signing

This would be a worst-case scenario...
Robert Hunt
Robert Hunt / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Scrutiny was placed on the Carolina Panthers' decision to hand interior offensive lineman Robert Hunt a lucrative deal in free agency.

Protecting quarterback Bryce Young quickly became the Carolina Panthers' biggest priority during an eventful free agency for the franchise. Dan Morgan and Brandt Tilis were aggressive in their approach, picking up two new starting guards at great expense. Something that represented a necessity if they wanted their substantial investment in the signal-caller to pay dividends.

Soon after the legal tampering period began, the Panthers inked Robert Hunt to a five-year, $100 million deal that includes a $26.5 million signing bonus and $63 million guaranteed. Although it was a pricy move in the grand scheme of things, a two-win team operating within a relatively small market almost dictates there would be some extra dollars on his demands.

Carolina Panthers OL Robert Hunt named potential free-agent bust

This has the scope to be one of the most important signings in recent memory. Gilberto Manzano from Sports Illustrated was less convinced, naming Hunt as one of 10 free-agent acquisitions most likely to fail during the 2024 campaign and beyond.

"Every young quarterback should have a bodyguard like [Robert] Hunt, a rugged blocker in many aspects who doesn’t allow his signal-caller to take extra hits. Bryce Young will benefit from having Hunt in the middle of the [Carolina] Panthers’ offensive line. But the Panthers overpaid for his services, with a whopping five-year, $100 million contract with $63 million guaranteed. With the lucrative contract, comes added pressure for Hunt, 27, who didn't make an All-Pro team nor a Pro Bowl during his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins. Now Hunt will need to play like the best guard in the NFL to live up to this hefty contract. That’s a high bar, but the Panthers probably won’t care if Young excels in Year 2 and takes a lot fewer sacks than the 62 he had last season."

Gilberto Manzano, SI

Nobody within the Panthers has proclaimed they want Hunt to be the league's best offensive guard. It would be a nice bonus, but improving consistency and becoming a tone-setting force in all phases would make this money well spent.

Hunt missed some time with an injury last season, but his production was first-class when on the field. He brings a level of ruthlessness that wasn't evident last time around as Carolina's protection in front of Young became toothless once again. He's also the sort of player that makes everyone around him better.

Couple this with the addition of left guard Damien Lewis and trading for wide receiver Diontae Johnson, things are looking up for Young. More is needed, but Morgan will likely rectify this at various stages of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Hunt wouldn't be the first free-agent signing to fluff his lines or fail to meet lofty expectations. But were the Panthers going to wait around on the off chance Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett stayed healthy and raised their performance levels? The stakes are far too high for that.

This is a worst-case scenario where Hunt is concerned. Looking at the player's production over his prolific spell with the Miami Dolphins, there's a good chance he can emerge into the alpha interior offensive line enforcer Young benefitted from greatly under center for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

If it all goes wrong, there's just no telling what complications could emerge.