To continue with the challenges facing the Panthers this season, by position group, and focusing on the high number of unrestricted free agents (UFAs) the team has:
Special teams: Kicker Graham Gano has a big leg and his pretty accurate. He’s also an unrestricted free agent, which means that some team that needs a kicker might want to lure him away. Given how good Gano has been, he’s worth a fair bit more than league minimum.
Defensive line: The Kraken devoured a lot of QBs this past season and some team will pay the Kraken a lot of money next year and beyond as a result. The only question is whether that team is the Carolina Panthers or not. DT Colin Cole is also a UFA. He was a starter for part of the season. He’ll also be 34 next season and was on a league-minimum contract in 2013.
Linebacker: The issue here is depth, or really the Panthers’ lack of it. Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are great. Behind that the Panthers Chase Blackburn and AJ Klein. All four are under contract for next year. Davis and Blackburn though will both be 31 and Blackburn could be a salary cap casualty. The Panthers other linebackers in 2013 were special teams players on league-minimum players than are now UFAs: Jordan Senn, Jason Williams, and Dan Connor. The Panthers spending a mid-round pick on a linebacker wouldn’t be a surprise. Hard to image them spending much money at LB on a talent upgrade though, given the more pressing needs the team has elsewhere.
Secondary: In 2013, the Panthers essentially held an open tryout for safety and cornerback spots for guys willing to take a league minimum deal or just slightly more. (Only Charles Godfrey made more than $1.1 million in 2013.) The flip side of this is that much of the secondary are now again free agents, putting the Panthers back in the position they were in a year ago. UFAs are S Quintin Mikell, S Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, and CB Drayton Florence while James Dockery is a restricted free agent and not likely to get a tender. And as Joseph Person wrote for the Charlotte Observer today, the Panthers “are at fish-or-cut-bait point with [cornerbacks] Josh Norman and Josh Thomas.”
Munnerlyn and Mitchell both played above the value of their contracts in 2013 and are in their primes. Resigning will take more a bit more than league-minimum money and they’re also likely looking for more than a one-year deal. Godfrey, meanwhile, is a potential salary-cap casualty.
Up next: recent developments