Panthers bolster defense on first official day of free agency

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CHARLOTTE – Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said the plan was to spend "judiciously" in free agency.

While they didn't go crazy Wednesday, he may have undersold it a bit.

In the opening hours of free agency, the Panthers checked off five big boxes, with the chance at more deals to come as the first full day of the league year dawns.

Already, the Panthers have agreed to terms with Cardinals pass-rusher Haason Reddick, Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman, Rams defensive lineman Morgan Fox, and offensive linemen Cam Erving and Pat Elflein.

While it wasn't necessarily a top-of-the-market spending spree, it was important to fill in a number of key spots on the depth chart for a young team.

All the deals are pending physicals, and most of the players are expected in Charlotte on Thursday to finalize them.

The 26-year-old Reddick is the big fish, but also a familiar face to the Panthers' staff.

He played for Panthers head coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow at Temple (with 9.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss as a senior), and he finally looked like the player they knew again last season.

Reddick was the Cardinals' 13th overall pick in 2017, but managed just 7.5 sacks in his first three years, never flashing the same way he did in college. He flourished last year, with 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in Arizona.

At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Reddick is not the prototypical size for a pass-rusher, but the Panthers aren't worried about templates on defense.

Between Brian Burns being an end-linebacker hybrid, and Jeremy Chinn able to play safety and linebacker, the Panthers are comfortable with guys who aren't easy to define.

The 28-year-old Perryman gives the Panthers a solid run-stopping presence in the middle, filling the spot left when Tahir Whitehead became a free agent.

Perryman was a second-round pick in 2015, and has started 51 games for the Chargers. He's a classic inside linebacker, and he gives them some flexibility with how they use Chinn and Jermaine Carter.

Fox, 26, adds a versatile pass-rusher to the Panthers' front. He had 6.0 sacks for the Rams last season, and his ability to play inside or outside gives them another piece to move around.

All they did on offense was add two starters to a line in flux.

While the Panthers were able to keep right tackle Taylor Moton with the franchise tag, the only other starter under contract was center Matt Paradis.

Five other offensive linemen from last year's team became unrestricted free agents Wednesday — left tackle Russell Okung, left guard Chris Reed, right guard John Miller, and reserves Michael Schofield and Tyler Larsen.

Elflein and Erving give the Panthers experienced options who check many of the boxes Rhule likes in players.

Elflein, 26, can play multiple interior spots, and gives them an immediate starting guard and potential future cover in the middle (Paradis has one year left on his deal).

A former third-round pick of the Vikings from Ohio State, Elflein has 49 starts in four seasons (finishing up last year with the Jets).

Erving, 28, is even more versatile, with the ability to play all five positions. He spent last year as a swing tackle for the Cowboys, but has also played center and guard during his time with the Browns and Chiefs. The former first-round pick has 47 career starts, and likely has the first opportunity to take over at left tackle.

It's been a busy week already. But as Fitterer walked in before sunrise Thursday, he knew there was more work to do.

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