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Ask Bryan: Free Agency Primer

Posted Feb 17, 2016

Who are the Panthers' potential free agents? What needs to happen in free agency for the Panthers to be among the elite again next season?

Hello Bryan, I was wondering if the NFL has put out an official Panthers free agent list. Many websites have lists but have incorrect information. As an example: Brenton Bersin is listed as a restricted free agent on some lists and listed as not a free agent at all on others. Would you have the official list? – George in Orange, Calif.

Bersin is not on the free agent list, but 17 other players who ended the 2015 season on the Panthers' roster are potential free agents if they are not signed to contract extensions or tendered contracts prior to the start of the new league year on March 9.

Here's the list, which would have included J.J. Jansen if the longtime long snapper hadn't signed a five-year contract earlier in the day:

WR Jerricho Cotchery
DE Frank Alexander
LB Ben Jacobs
CB Cortland Finnegan
WR Stephen Hill

OT Tyronne Green
 OT Mike Remmers

S Roman Harper
DT Kyle Love
CB Josh Norman
P Brad Nortman
G Chris Scott
G Amini Silatolu
CB Charles Tillman
FB Mike Tolbert
C Fernando Velasco
QB Joe Webb

The 13 potential unrestricted free agents have expiring contracts and four or more accrued seasons in the NFL, while the three restricted free agents have expiring contracts and three accrued seasons. All other things being equal, teams are in better position to keep their restricted free agents because they have the chance to match any contract offers made by other teams. Exclusive rights free agents – Ben Jacobs being the only one for Carolina - have two accrued seasons and an expiring contract and will either be offered and accept a contract from their current team or will walk.

Any ideas on Josh Norman's feelings about remaining a Panther after this year? – Mike in Oak Island, N.C.

It's a two-way street in free agent negotiations, with both the team needing to be interested in re-signing the player and the player needing to be interested in re-signing with the team. Best I can tell, there is mutual interest, but there's always the business of football that can get in the way.

All signs point to Norman being a highly coveted cornerback if he hits free agency, but general manager Dave Gettleman, while saying in the past that variables sometimes dictate that you must let good players walk, said last week he isn't in the business of developing players for other teams. If the parties can't reach a long-term agreement, the Panthers have the option until March 1 to use their franchise tag on Norman. That would allow the sides to continue to negotiate through the summer, or alternatively Norman could play the 2016 season under the terms of the tag.

My feeling, just my feeling, is that one way or the other Norman will play for the Panthers in 2016.

What is it going to take to keep the core of this team together so that we can make another run deep into the playoffs next year? – Adrian in Spartanburg, S.C.

Well, when you look at the above list of free agents, keeping Norman is a key to keeping the core together. But even if that doesn't happen, the list of potential free agents reveals that the large majority of the core is already locked up. Realistically in the NFL, the “core” can't be very big given how much turnover there is, so having Cam Newton, 80 percent of his offensive line, Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei among others under contract qualifies as keeping the core together.

There's no reason to believe this team, if healthy, isn't poised to compete for the NFL's ultimate prize again next season regardless of what happens in the offseason. Again forging a chemistry that promotes winning will be key, but just five players from my first season with the team back in 2010 remained on this most recent team, yet the team-first principles were as strong as ever. Expect more of the same.

I know the Panthers have won three straight NFC South titles and that is the longest in our division, but what team has the longest division title streak in the entire NFL since the 2002 realignment? – Mark in Fort Mill, S.C.

The Patriots own that distinction with a current streak of seven consecutive AFC East titles. If the Panthers win a fourth consecutive NFC South next year, they would become just the sixth team to accomplish that since realignment, joining the Patriots (twice), Packers, Seahawks, Colts and Chargers. It's debatable whether the Eagles should be on the list as they won four straight as well but the first title came the year before realignment.

Panthers.com senior writer Bryan Strickland answers your questions. Fill out the form below to send it to him. The answer to your question could be posted on Panthers.com.
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