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To fill or not to fill? A Panthers free agency primer

Posted Mar 12, 2018

Bill Voth and Max Henson provide Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera some shopping list suggestions.

CHARLOTTE – Free agency is underway. Kinda-sorta. 

The NFL’s “legal tampering” window opened Monday at noon, allowing teams to talk to agents of pending unrestricted free agents. So over the next couple of days, you may hear about players the Panthers have agreed to add. But like agreed-upon trades, nothing can be considered official until the new league year begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

As we wait, let’s take a quick run through the position groups. I’ll give my two cents whether each is a hole Carolina should plug before the draft, and if it is, Max Henson will provide some names of guys who may be a good fit.

The Panthers don't have a ton of funds, so it'll be tough to tick all the boxes, but in a perfect world ... 


Fill now? – No. 

As Ron Rivera said at the combine, first and foremost, the Panthers need to figure out Derek Anderson's future. He’d like to keep backing up Cam Newton, but Anderson could also bolt for a better offer. If he does, there’s still little reason to spend much on a free agent. It is time to use, say, a fifth-round draft pick on a guy to groom. 


Fill now? – No. 

Why cut ties with a back on his last legs like Jonathan Stewart only to bring on someone another team doesn’t want? This draft is loaded at running back. Wait until then to find Christian McCaffrey’s complement. 


Fill now? – If possible. 

Team websites aren’t allowed to analyze pending trades until Wednesday afternoon, but we can tell you there are reports the Panthers are making a deal for Eagles wideout Torrey Smith. That shouldn’t preclude them from trying to get Newton another weapon or two. But with a handful of teams sitting on heaps of cap space, Carolina may be priced out of bigger name wide receivers like Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson. 

Max: Like Robinson, Marqise Lee is another Jacksonville wideout set to hit the market. The 2014 second-round pick (who was on the Panthers' radar when they picked Kelvin Benjamin that year) has been productive each of the past two seasons, amassing 119 catches for 1,553 yards and six touchdowns. He won’t be as pricey as Robinson, but Lee will likely command more than the Panthers are willing to spend. Falcons wideout Taylor Gabriel has coveted speed and Chiefs wideout Albert Wilson has the ability to separate, though both are on the smaller side. The Panthers showed some interest in possession receiver Jordan Matthews ahead of the 2014 draft, but an injury-played 2017 season with the Bills raises questions.


Fill now? – Yes. 

Like at quarterback, you could argue it's time the Panthers put a young tight end in the pipeline. But with bigger holes to fill, I’m not sure it’s worth using a pick in the early rounds on Greg Olsen’s eventual replacement. More likely, this is the time to replace Ed Dickson, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent. 

Max: Packers tight end Richard Rodgers, son of the Carolina assistant defensive backs coach with same name, jumps off the page. He’s a big target, but his production dipped drastically over the last two seasons after posting 58 catches for 510 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. Luke Willson has always been a thorn in Carolina’s side during his time with the Seahawks, particularly in the red zone. His receiving stats aren’t eye-popping, but he’s reliable and can do a bit of everything. Tyler Eifert was a top-tier prospect and a first-round pick in 2013, but numerous injuries have kept him from fulfilling his potential with the Bengals.


Fill now? – Sure. 

With Andrew Norwell about to land a huge deal elsewhere, there will be a hole at left guard. Many assume 2017 second-round pick Taylor Moton can slide in there, and maybe he will, but I believe his future remains at tackle. 

Max: Josh Kline is a veteran with experience at both guard spots. Zach Fulton, who has experience at center and guard, has gone from providing depth in Kansas City to earning a chance to be paid like a starter. Senio Kelemete has also been pegged as a backup in New Orleans, but he has always seemed to perform well against the Panthers.


Fill now? – Sure. 

The Panthers would like to keep Star Lotulelei, but he may want to see what he can get on the open market. Like Moton, I have my doubts about Vernon Butler as a plug-and-play answer. So the Panthers could use a bargain nose tackle along with help at defensive end. The best news they could get there, though, is another one-year commitment from Julius Peppers

Max: Let’s start with potentially having to find another defensive tackle. The Panthers might need a run-stuffing space eater, and Minnesota’s Shamar Stephen fits the bill. A more cost-effective option would be someone like Beau Allen, who just won a Super Bowl with the Eagles. At defensive end, the Panthers have always liked rushers who can play inside and out. Pernell McPhee (31 sacks over seven years) could help in that area.


Fill now? – No. 

It’s been hard enough for the Panthers to find playing time for Shaq Thompson


Fill now? – Yes. 

Again, there’s not much we can say about potential trades. But, sure, the spot across from James Bradberry is worth upgrading.

Max: Morris Claiborne is a former first-round pick who is coming off an encouraging year with the Jets. Aaron Colvin has thrived in the slot for Jacksonville and could be primed for more success in a larger role. Bashaud Breeland compiled eight picks in four years with Washington, and he has local ties – the former Clemson Tiger is from Allendale, S.C.


Need to fill now? – Yes. 

Kurt Coleman’s now a Saint and Mike Adams turns 37 later this month. I’d pick up a safety now and early-ish in the draft. 

Max: Kenny Vaccaro’s name has been mentioned often. It would certainly be interesting if the Saints and Panthers essentially swapped safeties. The Chiefs are reportedly parting ways with Ron Parker, who was a reliable contributor and presence in the back end five seasons removed from the Panthers' practice squad. Tavon Wilson was playing pretty well in Detroit before landing on IR. Also worth noting: Tre Boston, Carolina’s fourth-round pick in 2014, is back on the market after a five-pick season with the Chargers.


Need to fill now? – No. 

The Panthers may eventually add an undrafted leg to help them get through the spring and summer, but Graham Gano, Michael Palardy and J.J. Jansen are their guys.