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Top Five Offseason Moves So Far

Posted Mar 17, 2016

Panthers haven't signed any big-name free agents, but they have made big moves aimed at securing success next season and beyond.

A little more than a week into free agency, the Panthers have just two new faces on their roster.

Don't mistake that for an unproductive start.

The Panthers have long been about building from within rather than trying to catch lightning in a bottle from outside sources, and that approach has produced remarkable results of late. Carolina is coming off an appearance in Super Bowl 50 and an unprecedented third consecutive NFC South title. No one else has ever won two in a row.

Here's a quick look at the five best moves made by the Panthers since the Super Bowl – four of which involve returners.

5. COACHING CONTINUITY: Not only did the Panthers manage to retain offensive coordinator Mike Shula and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott this offseason; they also made it more likely they can retain a higher percentage of their top-notch staff by extending a two-year contract extension to all returning assistants. The one staff addition was a good one, too: adding Thomas McGaughey, who has been a special teams coordinator the past two seasons, as a special teams assistant.

4. SHORING UP THE FRONT: The Panthers have improved their quality of depth along both lines of scrimmage early in free agency, first adding center Gino Gradkowski and then adding former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Paul Soliai. Gradkowski can also play guard and thus takes over the role previously occupied by Fernando Velasco, while Soliai is capable of starting but will back up Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei after the Panthers didn't retain reserves Kyle Love and Dwan Edwards. Panthers Insider Mike Craft recently took a closer look at both signees.

3. RETAINING TOLBERT: Hours before players with expiring contract became free agents, the Panthers reached a two-year deal with fullback Mike Tolbert to bring him back into the fold. A Pro Bowler two of the past three seasons, Tolbert is a unique talent (and personality) who helps this offense in countless ways.

2. THE JOHNSON REUNION: Six days after defensive end Charles Johnson was released by the Panthers in a cost-cutting move, Johnson signed a one-year contract to return for less money. And he returned with arguably more motivation than ever, determined to prove that his comparatively quiet 2015 was an anomaly rather than a sign he doesn't have much left in the tank.

1. LOCKING UP A LOCKDOWN CORNER: The Panthers didn't have long to work out a long-term deal with cornerback Josh Norman after the Super Bowl run, but they had time to make sure he would return in 2016. Carolina placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Norman, all but assuring that he'll play for the Panthers next season while buying time to potentially work on a longer-term deal with one of the most disruptive defensive backs in the game.