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Carolina Panthers

Dan Morgan: "These moves are all with the future in mind"

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ORLANDO, Fla. — It's been a busy couple of weeks for the Carolina Panthers, and they're not quite finished with the work done for the 2024 roster. 

But as new President of Football Operations/General Manager Dan Morgan walks through the league's annual spring meeting this week, he does it having authored a significant change in his roster since the start of the negotiating period two weeks ago today.

They've signed 11 outside free agents, including a pair of starting guards in Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, who required a significant financial investment. They traded for Diontae Johnson, giving quarterback Bryce Young a top receiving target to go with Adam Thielen. They added depth and familiarity on both sides of the ball. 

There have also been guys going the other way, as they've said goodbye to a pair of team captains in separate trades (Brian Burns to the Giants for draft picks, Donte Jackson to the Steelers for Johnson), released three veterans, and watched seven free agents sign with other teams. 

It's a lot to process, but it's also on purpose.

"You know, these moves are all with the future in mind," Morgan said. "I think we definitely are resetting in a sense, but that doesn't mean that we're just going to not be good and not be competitive."

Of course, trading Burns was the most difficult of those outgoing moves since the team had negotiated with the franchise-tagged outside linebacker for a year without reaching a deal. 

Morgan has kept his focus forward, as the second-round pick acquired from the Giants gives them a pair of choices in the top 40 of this year's draft (along with their own 33rd pick). 

So, as "challenging" (Morgan's word) as it was to create a significant hole in the roster, Morgan pointed to the $24 million in cap space that was created by the move and the two premium picks as key to what they've accomplished in a busy two weeks. No GM wants to trade a player of Burns' caliber, especially one who meant so much to the team, but Morgan said those picks would be an important part of the process here since he wants to focus on building through the draft.

"That's what's important," Morgan said. "Moving forward, it obviously created a hole there at the edge position, but to get those two picks at the top of the second round, I mean, it's huge.

"Just to kind of build out our roster the way that we want to build it, with the type of people that we want to build it with, the type of players that we want to build it with."

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The Panthers are still active on a number of fronts — they had free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney and wide receiver Michael Gallup in for visits and still have needs at those positions — so the business is far from over.

But as they've methodically gone through the roster, the incomings and the outgoings, Morgan emphasized the need to take the long view.

"I mean, we're in a non-panic mode," Morgan said. "I think everything that we do right now, the decisions that are made now are going to be made for the future as well.

"We've got to be very disciplined, and we've got to have a plan. We have a plan, and we've got to stay disciplined to that plan."

In recent years, the Panthers have been willing to trade picks for players, at the quarterback position and others. But Morgan said as he moves forward building this roster, he wants to put a premium on draft picks, so they can build something sustainable around quarterback Bryce Young and the pieces acquired this week.

"We definitely talk about that long-term vision," Morgan said. "And again, that doesn't mean that we're not going to make moves and be competitive. But at the same time, we can't continue to keep giving draft capital away for players.

"We've got to build this thing through the draft, and that's the goal here."

Whether it was deals for quarterbacks who turned out to be short-timers like Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, or Baker Mayfield, or short-term rentals for players from Stephon Gilmore, or deals for players who didn't turn out to be as impactful as originally imagined at the time, the Panthers have been on the front foot of such deals in recent years.

When you trade picks, it forces you to be more aggressive in free agency than Morgan would prefer to be — it's important to note that this year's activity is not going to be the norm — and he insists that's not going to be the case with his front office.

"I don't want to panic," he said plainly.

That attitude comes from a very particular place. The former linebacker played the game with directness, and he came up in a pair of successful front offices (Seattle and Buffalo) that were built on drafting well. So when he says things that might sound abrupt, it's because he's seen a way of doing business that works and wants to get back to it.

And coming off a 2-15 season, Morgan continues to say he expects to be competitive this year, but given the degree of change they've already experienced, he's walking in with a specific focus.

"I think it's definitely transitioning," Morgan said. "And again, we can't fix everything overnight because there is a lot of holes, and I think that we all have to understand that. The fans have to understand that, and people in the building have to understand that, that it isn't going to happen overnight, but it is going to eventually happen.

"That doesn't mean we're not going to be competitive or not be a good football team. It's just that it's going to be a process."

Whether it's the money they've spent so far, the draft picks, or their place in a waiver claim order this year (first until at least Week 4 of the regular season), Morgan said they were going to use every avenue to add talent this year.

"We're going to do a good job on the personnel side, whether through the draft or there are guys who get released late in the process," he said. So there's going to be opportunities for us to get playmakers."

But as he surveyed two weeks of work, there are particular players that stand out.

Hunt and Lewis — 650 pounds of guard, with $150 million worth of total contracts — are key pieces to protect Young, who was sacked 62 times last year. And by dealing for Johnson, there's a receiver with a demonstrated ability to get open, who also has the kind of personality Morgan is looking for as he builds.

"I think it's definitely a statement," Morgan said of those early additions on offense. "And even out at wideout, like Diontae, like he has edge, he has toughness, and him along with those two guards, and these are tough, competitive guys.

"So that's what we're building towards."

The Carolina Panthers were busy in free agency this week, signing multiple players on both sides of the ball. The first wave arrived on Thursday and Friday, getting a tour of Bank of America Stadium, meeting coaches, teammates and taking in their new home.

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