Re-signing free agent Josh Norman priority No. 1 for Panthers
Carolina came so close to a fairytale season, losing at the final hurdle in the Super Bowl after notching 17 wins over the course of the season and snagging both Coach of the Year and MVP in the end-of-season honors.
The work starts now for a team looking to contend again in 2016 with free agency rolling around, allowing them to retain some of their own players, let some others walk, and maybe target some new players to add to the mix.
Let’s preview the upcoming free agency period from the perspective of the Carolina Panthers’ front office.
CB Josh Norman
The Panthers have one major priority with regards to their own players hitting the open market, and that is re-signing Josh Norman, the cornerback who has developed into a shutdown player at the position. Over the past two seasons, Norman has allowed a passer rating into his coverage of 53.9 in 2014 and 58.1 in 2015. For much of this season, teams were better off throwing the ball away every play than they were targeting Norman, from a passer rating standpoint. He has become one of the best corners in the league, and needs to be locked down long-term—even if it takes the franchise tag to buy enough time to do it.
FB Mike Tolbert, S Roman Harper, P Brad Nortman, and/or G Amini Silatolu
After Norman, it’s a case of extending some depth or bit-part players if they so choose. Mike Tolbert isn’t any kind of punishing lead-blocker, but is a useful and versatile player to have in the backfield, especially with all of the option plays the Panthers run. Roman Harper somehow played well for Carolina, despite some very ugly performances in New Orleans before he came over, and could be retained as a short-term option at safety. Amini Silatolu was very poor as a rookie starter, surrendering four sacks and 27 additional pressures, but since then, as a bit-part player, has been far better and may still have potential as a long-term backup for relatively little money. Brad Nortman is also due a new deal at punter.
WR Jerricho Cotchery, CB Charles Tillman, and CB Cortland Finnegan
The Panthers have an ideal set of potential free agents hitting the market—players they brought in to help them out as veterans, but are long past their best. Jerricho Cotchery has been a fine pro, but was unable to run away from Von Miller—an edge rusher—in the Super Bowl, and both Charles Tillman, and Cortland Finnegan are likely surplus to requirements at corner.
WR Marvin Jones
The Panthers aren’t swimming in cap space if they have to devote some significant money to Josh Norman, and are even more squeezed if they need to use the franchise tag to keep him in town. They are also a roster without too many obvious holes. Receiver is one clear issue, but this is not a great crop to choose from. They could make a run at Marvin Jones, who may be the best viable target for them at that spot. Jones is dynamic with the ball in his hands, having broken double-digit tackles in each of his last two healthy seasons for Cincinnati.
OT Bobby Massie or OT Andre Smith
OT is their problem spot on the O-line, with Michael Oher a poor run-blocker this season and Mike Remmers badly exposed in the Super Bowl as a pass-blocker. They may not have the funds needed to make a run at one of the best available tackles, but a player like Bobby Massie or Andre Smith has shown quality play in the past, and may be a viable option to compete for the starting spot.