Skip to main content

Dan Morgan talks Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Ikem Ekwonu at combine

Dan Morgan

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Panthers look to build off a 2-15 season, they at least have the opportunity to build off a base of former first-round picks at premium positions.

Those guys dominated the conversation for President of Football Operations/General Manager Dan Morgan at the scouting combine Tuesday, in his first press conference as the man in charge.

In short, he said, "All options are on the table," as it pertains to pending free agent pass-rusher Brian Burns, including the franchise tag.

He also identified defensive tackle Derrick Brown as a priority and someone the team could extend in the near future.

As it pertains to left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, the news is that there is no news and that he's staying in his current position.

Burns was the first question out of the chute for Morgan, considering the deadline for using the tag is March 5, and Morgan said they're meeting with Burns' agent this week about a possible contract extension.

"We'll have a little more clarity on the situation after that, but we're working on it," Morgan said. "I think right now, all options are on the table. You know, what those options are, we'll find out. I'll have a little more clarity on that after I meet with the agent."

Asked specifically about the likelihood of the tag, which would secure Burns for another year at $24.007 million, Morgan said simply: "Yeah, I think we would use it."

"We would definitely use it if we had to use it, and you know, we love Brian," Morgan continued. "Brian's a Panther. Somebody that I know and that I'm close to, I played with his brother (Stanley McClover). So, I definitely love Brian. But all options are on the table for him."

Derrick Brown, Brian Burns

Brown's name came up quickly when the conversation turned to pending free agents — Morgan made it clear that linebacker Frankie Luvu was also someone they wanted to keep since he "embodies" the traits they're looking for.

Brown clearly does as well, especially after a season in which he broke a league record for tackles by a defensive lineman.

"I think we will look to extend him at some point," Morgan said of Brown, who is entering the option year of his rookie contract and could be a free agent after the 2024 season. "Derrick's a great player, a great person, and he embodies what a Panther is, right?"

Ekwonu was part of a longer conversation in which Morgan talked about strengthening the offensive line as a whole, and why that was a priority.

Rookie quarterback Bryce Young was sacked 62 times last season, matching a franchise record and the sixth-highest total in league history. Much of that stemmed from the instability in the middle, as they used seven different left guards and eight different right guards over the course of the year. That was largely an injury thing, but Morgan clearly wants to upgrade the base of talent in front of Young so they can build on last year's first-rounder.

Ikem Ekwonu

"I think it's pretty evident that our offensive line struggled at times last year," Morgan said. "We've got to get better in that area, and we're going to do everything in our power to make that happen."

But those upgrades seem more likely on the interior since he said the plan was to leave Ekwonu at left tackle after a difficult second season.

"I'm excited to see him develop under the new regime, the new offensive line coaches," Morgan said, noting the additions of assistant head coach/run game coordinator Harold Goodwin and line coach Joe Gilbert, who were in Tampa last year with head coach Dave Canales.

Morgan said he was "excited" by Ekwonu's potential, pointing out that he was just 23 years old (and a year removed from a successful rookie season that saw him go 10 games without allowing a sack).

"I think he's only going to get better and better," Morgan said of Ekwonu. "And I think when you bring the right coaches in, that maybe can help him out and get him better, I think that I'm confident in that. . . .

"Ickey's motivated to be better. He's hungry. I've had multiple talks with him on different occasions, and he's hungry to get better and be one of the better left tackles in the league."

While moving Ekwonu inside has been a topic of conversation (since his strength is literally his strength, and his ability in the run game surpasses his pass protection), Morgan said that his potential makes it worthwhile to leave him where he is and allow him to grow.

"Like I said, he's 23 years old," Morgan said. "But he still has developing to do, and he has the feet, he has the length, he has everything you need to be a really good left tackle in the league. I'm excited about him under the new staff just to see how he progresses on."

Check out photos from the Lowe's NFL Experience, where Panthers quarterback Bryce Young and Panthers Legend Luke Kuechly interacted with fans, tossed some footballs and even made pancakes.

Related Content