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Ask Bryan: Free agent additions

Posted Mar 17, 2015

Panthers improve offense around Cam Newton with well-calculated signings of wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr., and offensive tackle Michael Oher.

Do you think the Panthers are going to make a big splash in free agency besides getting Ted Ginn, Jr., and Michael Oher? – Garrett in Monroe, N.C.

"Substance is more important than splash," general manager Dave Gettleman recently said.

First off, the signings of Ginn and Oher are more significant than some seem to realize, especially when you consider their signings within the context of Carolina's situation.

Ginn isn't universally viewed as a big acquisition after totaling 16 catches in his last two seasons spent not wearing a Panthers uniform, but Carolina knows how to get the best out of him as evidenced by his 36 catches for 556 yards and five touchdowns as the team's No. 3 receiver in 2013. Even more importantly, he's one of the most decorated return men in NFL history, and that's a big upgrade regardless of his receiving role.

Oher was a starter on the Baltimore Ravens team that won the Super Bowl XLVII to cap the 2012 season, and the best days during his six-year career have been under the influence of John Matsko, now Carolina's offensive line coach. The Panthers know they must improve at left tackle, and Oher – despite some struggles along the way – may be the best left tackle among free agents signed by new clubs this offseason. Former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long remains unsigned but suffered a major knee injury each of the past two seasons. Oher did miss the last five games in 2014 to repair a toe injury that had bothered him for a while, but he feels like a new man and had started all 91 games of his career prior.

Smart signings like these and recently acquired safety Kurt Coleman – paired with the re-signing of several key contributors from last year's playoff team – fit with the way Gettleman likes to build a roster. They also give the Panthers enough competent options at each position to allow Gettleman to fully implement his best-player-available draft strategy that has paid off richly in the last two drafts.

With the acquisition of Michael Oher, do you believe the Panthers would use him to protect Cam's blind side or use him as more of a run blocking tackle on the other side? – Austin in Troy, N.C.

Not sure if you intentionally referenced "blind side" as an allusion to the Emmy-winning depiction of Oher's rags-to-riches journey, but the blind side is indeed where Gettleman sees Oher fitting.

"We did our homework on Michael, and we feel very strongly that he can be an answer for us," Gettleman said. "He'll be inserted at left tackle, and we'll go from there."

Gettleman was pleased with how the rest of the starting offensive line closed out last season – four-time Pro Bowl selection Ryan Kalil at center, rookies Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner at guard, and Mike Remmers at right tackle.

The draft could create competition at the least and possibly a battle for first-team reps. Oher would be the starting left tackle if the season started today, but it doesn't.

"We don't play until September," Gettleman said.

Since Jonathan Stewart has had injury issues in the past, what is the possibility that the Panthers take a running back in the first round? Say like Todd Gurley if he is available at the 25th pick? – Mike in Lewisville, N.C.

The release of DeAngelo Williams naturally has to increase the likelihood Carolina will draft a running back at some point in the draft, but it's not likely to happen in the first round.

Even when Williams, Stewart and Mike Tolbert were all on the roster, the Panthers selected a running back in the sixth round in both 2014 (Tyler Gaffney) and 2013 (Kenjon Barner), not hesitating to take what they believed to be the best available player regardless of positon at the time. Would the Panthers take the same approach in the first round?

The reality is that no running backs have been selected in the first round for two years running. Gurley and Melvin Gordon could be first-round picks this year, but they might not be. So regardless of perceived position need, the recent draft-day trend toward running backs means it's more likely the Panthers would look for value there in later rounds rather than earlier ones.