With the 8th pick of the 2017 NFL Draft is the extremely disappointing Carolina Panthers. It was only a little over a year ago they competed in the Super Bowl and the lead up to this past season they were one of the favorites to possibly make it back the big game. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down and right now they barely even look like a playoff team going into this season. I will try and dissect on what the Panthers should do so they can return to the Super Bowl. Without further adieu here we go!
Carolina Panthers Salary Cap Space: $53 million
Upcoming Free Agents:
1) Kawann Short DT
2) Andrew Norwell OG (RFA)
3) Charles Johnson DE
4) Mario Addison DE
5) Tedd Ginn Jr WR
6) Mike Tolbert RB (cut)
7) Mike Remmers OT
--- Obviously, the biggest thing for the Panthers to do with their crop of free agents is to retain Short who is main cog in the middle of their defense. He along with Starr Lotulelei are the ones who push the pocket and allow the rest of their defense to reap the rewards. Unfortunetly, Starr is a free agent next season and retaining both of them will be hard. I think Short is the better of the two however, and pushing to resign him long term will help out a lot. It will not be cheap to resign him, but if they franchise them it may cost them next year when they want to resign Lotulelei and Short at the same time. It's a bridge they need to cross eventually and they should do it as fast as they can.
Between Charles Johnson and Mario Addison I would look to keep the younger option who has a lot of tread left on his tires. Johnson has not looked the same since his career year a few years ago and has not even gotten close to mimicking those numbers. Addison however, has always been a very strong rotational option at the very least and after getting more playing time last year showed he can contribute full time as well. He should come cheaper than Johnson and provide a good pass rush along with the young Kony Ealy.
I would not mind seeing them resign Tedd Ginn since he was one of their more consistent receivers, but his main attribute being speed and his advancing age he may start losing a step or two. If they bring him back on a cheap team friendly contract that is not too long I can see it working very well. Other than that the rest are nondescript players who can be let go.
Possible Off Season Moves:
- There really is no outstanding contract issues or trades that need to be done for this team other than hit it big in the draft with their high selection. I could possibly see them cut Jonathan Stewart to save about $5 million to find a cheaper, younger, and more explosive option. Even then it's not a huge pressing need and for all Stewart has done for the team they can wait until after the draft if they decide to move that way.
- They could possibly convince Cam Newton to restructure his deal so they get more money to be able to sign both Lotulelei and Short to extensions. However, I understand why Cam may not want to do that since I think he's more worried about his money than actually helping the team.
- Andrew Whitworth or Ricky Wagner OT - I am usually not for signing a player north of 30 let alone 35, but Whitworth is still a quality left tackle in this league and if the Panthers can protect Newton I can see them being very competitive again. A short contract to maybe make a big push again is a good fit with Whitworth to upgrade Michael Oher. Wagner is a better right tackle option and has youth on his side. He may cost more thanks to his youth and this poor tackle market and draft, but he can take the place of Mike Remmers easily. Landing at least one of these guys can help out a lot.
- Kenny Stills, Kendall Wright, or Cordarelle Patterson WR - I think having both Benjamin and Funchess as receivers is redundant as they both play with similar styles. They are both bigger targets with limited speed to get downfield. At least Benjamin is faster and can run good routes. The same cannot be said about Funchess and to me he is turning out to be a decent bust. Stills could be an over the top weapon with his plus speed. His hands are not the best, but neither was Ginn's before he showed up and now he is actually decent there. Same thing with Patterson with his amazing speed and explosiveness he can turn into a younger Ginn for them taking his spot if he leaves in free agency. Wright is a little different since he is a good route runner and has a ton of ability to be a very good secondary option if he gets his act together.
- Tony Jefferson S - Some may say corners is the most needed position in the secondary, but after using three draft picks on that spot last year I think they should turn their attention to the safety position. Kurt Coleman is a very average player who succeed in the shadow of Josh Norman and the rest of the secondary last season when quarterbacks avoided them. Meanwhile, Tre Boston at best is a back up safety. Jefferson would come in and be their top safety right away with a very good all around game to be used in a variety of ways. He may cost a lot, but the Panthers are able to win now and have the cap space for him.
Possible Draft Options:
- If the Panthers can nail this pick in the top 10 they should be able to make a turn around quickly. Leonard Fournette is a real big target who can be in play here for the Panthers to upgrade the running back position. His running style fits perfectly in their smash mouth offense and can get this offense back to their routes running the ball consistently. I could see them selecting a receiver, but to me Davis and Williams are not that great to be top 10 picks. Derek Barnett or Solomon Thomas could be the pick to help bolster their pass rush if they decide to move on from both Johnson and Addison. If a safety like Hooker or Adams slides they should jump on him. A corner is also a possibility, but after spending three picks on corners last year they could hold off on it.
- This is where they could possibly land a quality starting tackle to come in and provide solid blocking for Cam. Both tackle spots could be upgraded, but since most of these tackles all have their own issues putting them at left tackle may be too much too soon for them. I would not mind them going after a player like Antonio Garcia from Troy or maybe even see if Forrest Lamp can go to the right side with his talented upside. If not they could look for a safety or edge rusher here as well. A receiver could also be in play since the depth at the position is better than the top end talent in my opinion. Overall, they can go in a myriad of different directions to better their team throughout the draft.
My Mock Selections:
1 (8) - Quincy Wilson CB Florida
2 (40) - Antonio Garcia OT Troy
3 (72) - Demarcus Walker DE Florida St
- In the first round they could have gone after Derek Barnett or Leonard Fournette, but to me the value for Wilson was a lot higher then the others. He has very good upside and can be the stand out in their young corner group with his plus athleticism and talents. Getting Garcia in the second would be a perfect scenario for the Panthers since he does have enough upside to maybe turn into a solid left tackle, but at the very worst he can be a top right tackle. Walker may slip due to his size, but he is a natural pass rusher and fit's the shorter mold the Panthers like in their defensive linemen.
The Panthers had a very disappointing season last year and I attribute it to their avoidance of suring up weak spots on their roster. They let go of Josh Norman and most of their core secondary the previous season and replaced them with a bunch of rookies, which ended up being a shaky endeavor. They failed to even upgrade their tackle positions after watching how bad they played in the Super Bowl. To me everything felt a little cocky with them just expecting everything to be the same the next season without really upgrading anything. If they delve into free agency to upgrade the secondary or line it would be a great start. The same could be said in the draft where they need to be more diversified in their selections while at the same time finding players for weak spots on their roster. With an easier schedule next season and hopefully better talent around Newton they can make another run to the playoffs in my opinion.