2014 Team Needs: Carolina Panthers
Mike Renner looks into Carolina's biggest needs and offers free agent fixes.
2014 Team Needs: Carolina Panthers
The Panthers finally made it back to the playoffs after a four-year drought thanks in large part to their dominant defense. After an 12-4 season and a NFC South championship, the big question is how do they stay on top?
New general manager David Gettleman was put in a difficult position when he took the reins of the organization. The Panthers have many large contracts on the books that still can’t be cut. After the franchise tagging of Greg Hardy, the Panthers have just $6.6m in cap room and as you’ll see later almost no contracts that can be easily terminated.
Thankfully, Gettleman drafted extremely well with his first two draft picks, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. He’ll have to make his improvements through the draft again this offseason for the Panthers to add talent.
Potential Cap Casualties
Unless the Panthers want to release a starter, there is really no spot where they can recoup a good deal of cap space. Here are some of the contracts that deserve a closer look. All numbers are courtesy of overthecap.com.
– Greg Olsen ($2m), Charles Godfrey ($2.1m), Mike Tolbert ($1.4m), and Dwan Edwards ($1.4m) are the only players who, if released, would create over $1m in cap space. Olsen, Godfrey, and Tolbert are all too important to justify releasing them over the small cap room the Panthers would gain. Edwards, on the other hand, could be a cap casualty. He played just 377 snaps last season, and while he graded out fine (+2.1), he’ll be 33 years old and have two second-year starters in front of him.
– Chase Blackburn seems like a pretty likely cut if the Panthers need more room. He only played 242 snaps last season and A.J. Klein is poised to take over his position as a base outside linebacker. Cutting Blackburn would add $950k in cap room.
That’s really it on the meaningful cap casualties’ front. It’s going to be a challenge for Carolina to even re-sign their own players, let alone add more talent through free agency.
Losing a left tackle like Jordan Gross isn’t something a team can just find a replacement for. Gross graded at +10.0 or above in every season we’ve graded here at PFF. In his final season he was our third-ranked left tackle and had an overall grade of +33.3. His consistency and elite play at the left tackle position will be sorely missed. Right tackle Byron Bell is a restricted free agent and I assume he’ll get tendered and be back, but as it stands right now the Panthers have two tackles on the roster with a combined 44 career snaps between them.
Free agent fix: This position will have to be addressed in the draft, but the depth is so lacking that a free agent seems necessary. A veteran stopgap like Tyson Clabo could be the right fit. It would likely necessitate a switch from right to left from Byron Bell, but a right tackle will be much cheaper to find in free agency than a left. Clabo came on strong towards the end of last season and at 32 years old, should have a few good seasons left in him.
For much of the 2013 season it was said that the Panther’s corners were the weak spot of their defense. If that wasn’t the case then, it surely is now with the free agencies of Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn and Florence led the Panthers secondary with grades of +10.1 and +7.2, respectively. Losing both players and leaving the secondary in the unproven hands of Melvin White and Josh Thomas could prove disastrous.
Free agent fix: Re-sign Captain Munnerlyn. Last season made it perfectly clear that the market for a 5-foot-8 corner isn’t very strong. After a career year, Munnerlyn will certainly get more than his one-year, $1.1m contract he signed last offseason, but I wouldn’t expect too much more. With the Panthers’ limited cap space, this just makes the most sense.
The Panthers have been unable to find a legitimate number two receiver next to Steve Smith ever since Muhsin Muhammad retired. Brandon LaFell never quite broke through as that guy after showing promise in his rookie year of 2010. Now LaFell is a free agent along with Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon. The receivers currently on the Panthers roster besides Smith have a combined five career catches.
Free agent fix: The Panthers would be smart to address this need through the draft with the extremely deep class of receivers coming out this year. Hakeem Nicks has been an oft-mentioned name, but he may price himself out of the Panthers’ league. I think they would be best served signing some under-the-radar veterans like they did last year. While I expect one of LaFell, Ginn, or Hixon to return, I think the Panthers could go outside the organization to find talent. I think a guy like Robert Meachem could fill that role of a cheap veteran with experience in a passing offense. Meachem wasn’t close to worthy of his four-year, $25.9m deal he signed with the Chargers in 2012, but he’s only had two negatively-graded seasons in his career and could be had for near the veteran minimum.
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