Re-signing free agent Josh Norman priority No. 1 for Panthers

Sam Monson breaks down the Carolina Panthers' biggest free agent decisions, including who to re-sign, let walk, and target.

| 7 months ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

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.

Re-sign

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.

Let walk

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.

Target

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • crosseyedlemon

    As mentioned Norman is going to create a tight cap situation for the Panthers but really what choice do they have but to lock this guy up long term?

  • JudoPrince

    Why bring back Tolbert when they no longer require a lead blocking FB? Tolbert is most often used in spread option looks and simply does not possess the skill set to maximize the offense in those sets. They should let him walk and target a speedier value option in free agency if they can. Or draft a well rounded RB in the middle draft. Cameron Artis-Payne has more potential to fill the the Tolbert roll and he needs more opportunity to showcase his skills.

    • Panthers/Truth

      (1) CAP is totally miscast to fill Tolbert’s role.

      (2) A good FR replacement for Tolbert might be the Cowboys TE/FB James Hanna (6’3 3/4″, 260, 33 1/8″ arms, and 9 7/8″ hands), who ran an “official” 4.49-40 (“unofficially” a 4.42 and 4.44), and a 1.59-10 yard split.

      (3) G-man may not want to risk disrupting the Panthers winning veteran chemistry.

  • Zack Dean

    WR is not a clear issue. It isn’t an issue at all. Most pass td’s in the league and highest scoring offense without our WR1 KB who is already back. I REPEAT WR is not a need and no moves should be made to address this position.

    • http://www.twitter.com/michaelprocton Michael Procton

      The Broncos definitely agree. But hey, you’re not going to get full value on any receivers when you can’t trust your QB to find them and get them the ball with any accuracy.

      • Keoni Pleasants

        There were a handful of overthrows, a handful. You’re severly over exaggerating. 35 Pass TDs and you can’t trust Cam? Stooooop it! The WRs weren’t catching anything. The QB wasn’t the problem so stop it guy. I guess you expect him to do Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Jerricho Cotchery, and Greg Olsen’s jobs for them too, right? (Forgot Ed “I can’t pass protect” Dickson’s name too)

        • http://www.twitter.com/michaelprocton Michael Procton

          Really? Newton was absolutely among the league leaders in off-target passes. And if you’re whining about Cotchery’s two drops on 46 catches for the year, it’s probably not the receivers you should be going after.

          • Trae Baker

            yup get rid of Newton he’s a bum

          • Jon Campbell

            I know right? He’s awful, just awful. Just the awfulest.

          • Trae Baker
          • http://www.twitter.com/michaelprocton Michael Procton

            Thank you for that glowing review from Irish Newton fanboy Cian Fahey. Let me summarize: “Newton is sacrosanct; every throw was perfect, and he made no error last year or at any time in his NFL career.”

          • Trae Baker

            The point is Newton isn’t the problem and for you to insinuate that is ignorant. Is he perfect? No of course not. Can he make plays and throws that no other QB in the nfl can make? Yes, and the only player close to his skill set is Russell. Not surprisingly those two were the top scoring QBs the second half of the season.

          • http://www.twitter.com/michaelprocton Michael Procton

            Ahh, you’re a Newton fan; I can tell by your ad hominem over a substantial argument. P.S.: Remind me how Newton played over the OTHER 50% of the season. Games like Jacksonville and Philly and Houston and Indy.

      • Jon Campbell

        Good thing the Panthers can trust their QB then.

    • Cyteria Knight

      Thank you. I’m so tired of that old narrative. I would like our WR’s to get a little more YAC but part of their lack of YAC may have to do with Cam needing to get a little better at throwing his WR’s open.

  • Jeff Cook

    With Jared Allen retiring we will have $31 mil in cap space or $18 mil if we have to use tag on Norman. Not sure what you mean by “not swimming” but we will be players in FA for the first time in 3 years. Oh, and add Harper to the “let walk” list btw. I think Gettleman will target DL, OL and Safety in FA while going BPA, Line, CB, WR in draft.

    • Karen B.

      Yes, the Panthers will have more Cap space than we’re used to in recent years, and perhaps we will see a slight rise in FA signings, but remember Gettleman is actively freeing up Cap space not only because of Norman, but also because of KK who will command a pretty major salary, with his contract hopefully to be signed late in this offseason to avoid his pending free agency next year.

      As much of Hurney’s dead wood / over inflated salaries are dealt with, you also have to realize that there may not be a lot of future major cap savings to come.

      Obviously there is still CJ to cut / restructure (most likely this year). Also Stew (next year?). But after that, there’s not a lot of large chunks of Cap savings obvious in future years. Our core players under contract, Cam, Luke, Greg, maybe Josh if we can work out a contract, KK. Star…, are going to be eating up a good portion of the cap going forward. All the more reason for Dave G. to not go wild this year with an extra 8 – 10 million to spend.

      I DO expect him to bring in some targeted quality free agents, most likely at DE and DB. (Think “Macy’s” level signings – not Dollar store, not Tiffanys), but I also expect many Panthers fans to whine that DG is not doing enough with the Cap we have, because I expect DG to be saving cash for KK and future signings of our other young potential stars (Turner, Ealy, KB….)

  • Panthers/Truth

    In my opinion:

    (1) Tolbert is a maybe, because of money (how do you ask an All-Pro to take a pay cut?), but if he doesn’t get a much better offer, I think he will return.

    (2) Harper could return on a reduced contract, or draft a replacement (4th round or later), it’s a tossup.

    (3) Amini Silatolu is a goner, because he will want to be a starter, and he’s finished each of his 4 seasons on IR, missing over half the games since he was drafted, the Panthers need a more dependable backup OG.

    (4) I’m a fan of WR Marvin Jones, but I don’t think he’s enough of an improvement to warrant his signing. Kelvin Benjamin will return from injury, Funchess was the #41 pick last year (looks like he could be a good slot receiver), with Ginn as their field stretching speedster (though he can certainly be improved upon, but need a little better speed than Jones provides, because Benjamin and Funchess run 4.6+ 40’s, and Ginn is under 4.4).

    (5) I’ve never been a fan of Smith, and Massie is a struggling starter, but don’t overlook 2015’s #102 pick Daryl Williams at RT. G-man has a history of going cheap on the O-Line, so I expect a draft pick at LT (maybe La’Raven Clark at #63), as a rookie backup, and replacing Oher in 2017. They do need a veteran backup OT, so they might retain Remmers, unless he gets an offer too high to match.

    (6) The Panthers only have 6 draft picks, but need a starting CB, 2 DE’s, a DT, SS, backup CB, a LOT, backups at OG, and C.

    • Tim Edell

      I agree on Daryl Williams.. I was high on him coming out last year and was having a real good camp until he was hurt early.