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Carolina Panthers

Grill Bill: Will Carolina pursue free agents like Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson?


I know you're including a good dose of sarcasm, which I'd usually appreciate. In previous years, I'd roll my eyes at people continuously asking about some of the bigger names about to hit the free agent market. This year is different. 

Marty Hurney's No. 1 priority is to improve Cam Newton's weapons. How Hurney does that will be interesting since he has less than $30 million in cap space, and the Panthers, who are sitting at the mid-20s in the draft, also have holes on defense. 

As far as the two names brought up here, I do think the Panthers are more willing than in years past to pursue guys like Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson and Rams wideout Sammy Watkins. Pursuing and landing are two different things, of course. 

Teams like the Browns and Jets have gobs of money to throw around, so landing a big fish could be tough. Hurney isn't going to get into a bidding war. He can't afford to. So much of what will decide questions like this is what other teams are willing to spend. 

Email from Mark: Thanks for this Bill. This should be a lot of fun. So here is my thing: We went to the Super Bowl with Ted Ginn. He is one of the fastest players in the league and has decent hands. He has elite speed. It makes defenses play honest, less eight men in the box and our offense flourished. Then we released him, New Orleans immediately picked him up, and they used him successfully for exactly the same reasons while our offense fizzled. Sammy Watkins has elite speed and better hands than Ginn. We clearly need speed on the edges. Would you make a play for Watkins, a known, proven if limited WR, or draft DJ Chark? He has nearly the same type of speed and is a better receiver than either Watkins or Ginn. There is a serious lack of elite speed in this year's draft at the WR position, but Chark is one of those guys.

Mark, if I'm reading that correctly, I think you're asking me to choose between the two, not whether I'd touch either one. 

For what it's worth, of the pending bigger name free agent wideouts, I think the Panthers will be most intrigued by Watkins. But with his injury history, I'd hesitate if/when the money starts to creep above $11 million. 

I'm less intrigued by Chark. We've seen plenty of guys with great measurables run fast before. See: Stephen Hill. 

Chark put up so-so numbers at LSU and makes too many catches with his body. That wouldn't make for a great pairing with a cannon-armed quarterback like Cam Newton. 

If Chark falls to the mid rounds, OK, sure. But after his impressive combine, some team could be enamored enough to grab him in the first two rounds. Pass. 

Good question. 

I think the Panthers will add a safety in free agency and in the draft. That's not really going out on a limb considering these are the safeties under contract for 2018: Mike Adams, Colin Jones, Demetrious Cox, Damian Parms. 

So I'd add a serviceable starter in free agency and use one of my top two picks at the position. Adams, who turns 38 next month, could then be a leadership guy off the bench. I may even re-sign Jairus Byrd, who was a good depth guy last season. 

Like at safety, answers at defensive end and wide receiver aren't currently on the roster. 

While the Panthers wait on Julius Peppers, these are the ends under contract for 2018: Mario Addison, Wes Horton, Bryan Cox Jr., Daeshon Hall, Zach Moore and Efe Obada. Cox impressed coaches last season, but he went undrafted for a reason. And Hall and Obada are developmental players who aren't ready for big roles. So in-house options aren't great. 

Same at wide receiver. 

Sure, Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd could help if they can stay healthy, but how many eggs are you going to put in either of their baskets? Hurney needs to add to this group through free agency and/or the draft. And let's not forget about the possibility of a trade. 

Website submission from Greg in Beckley, WV: *When will we start to see the Panthers re-sign some of their own FAs? Palardy, Byrd, etc.? *

Soon. Very soon. 

I think I've addressed a Norwell question in every Grill Bill since before last season ended, and each answer explained why it was time to get ready to say goodbye. So let's move on from the Norwell stuff. It's over. 

Speaking of moving on ...

In hindsight, sure, you could say the Panthers made the wrong call. And I hear the "it's not just hindsight" murmurs from those of you who last summer said they should keep Harrison Butker over Graham Gano. 

The path to success in the NFL is often paved by drafting well and paying cheap(er) players to produce. Butker could've helped that part of the cause. But, right or wrong, the Panthers were leery about putting a playoff-ready roster on the foot of a rookie kicker.

They can't do anything about Gano vs. Butker now, so how do they best move forward? I think locking up Gano was a better option than signing someone off the street or having another go with a rookie. 

There will be 90 players in the building by mid-April. That's a lot of laundry and cars to wash. The more you can do, right? 

Really, though, complaints that the NFL is a 365 day a year industry are overblown. Hours during the season are rough, but February-July can sometimes feel like an extended summer vacation compared to the grind of August-January. 

During this time of year, we'll post at least one story a day during the week – and that's where it can sometimes be more challenging than in-season. With limited access to players, coming up with creative and engaging content – not just clickbaity fluff – is key. 

After losing to Boston College, it'll be tough. 

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