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Recapping a busy first week of the Panthers offseason

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CHARLOTTE — We'll pardon you if it was hard to keep up, or if you were distracted by basketball.

All the Panthers really did last week was make enough moves to put a team on the field in the fall.

It's far from a complete team, but it's at least more stable than the one we last saw, though it's also far from finished.

The pace of the work last week was eye-opening, even if it should have been expected. And even if we didn't know the names attached, it's no surprise what the first three incoming moves included.

While the list was long, the two biggest problems the Panthers had on offense last year were an inability to protect quarterback Bryce Young and a failure to offer him open targets.

So all they did was sign two of the top guards on the market to significant contracts and trade for a top-end receiver who specializes in route-running and getting open.

Damien Lewis, Robert Hunt

By adding Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis, the hope is that they can stop the churn in the middle this year after playing seven different left guards and eight different right guards in 2023. When you think of those two numbers, Young tying a franchise record with 62 sacks absorbed (the sixth-highest total in league history) was not a coincidence.

With those two in place, Austin Corbett slides in to play center (which he's done before), and the hope is that stabilizes the interior in the same way the Saints protected Drew Brees (by putting massive guards in front of him to protect the pocket from the most direct push up the middle).

And with Johnson arriving to add a reliable playmaker opposite Adam Thielen, they gave the passing game a qiuck boost. Johnson's the type of receiver they didn't have previously, and his 391 catches for 4,363 yards and 25 touchdowns are more than double the rest of the non-Thielen receivers on the roster (who have combined for 185 catches for 2,308 yards and six touchdowns).

After that immediate work on offense, they started filling vacancies on the other side of the ball, largely with known commodities.

New defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson knows defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero from his time with the Rams, as does safety Jordan Fuller. Linebacker Josey Jewell played for Evero in Denver. Cornerback Dane Jackson lacks the background with the coaching staff, but he was a seventh-round pick of the Bills when Panthers general manager Dan Morgan was there and advocated for him.

Those guys check boxes and replace some departed players, after they traded cornerback Donte Jackson to Pittsburgh, released safety Vonn Bell, and saw Frankie Luvu, Jeremy Chinn, and Yetur Gross-Matos leave in free agency.

Robinson gives them a third veteran up front to stabilize the line, with the kind of long frame they lacked last year next to Derrick Brown and Shy Tuttle. Jewell's not a like-for-like Luvu replacement (there are no like-for-like Luvu replacements), but he's been productive in this system (119 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions in 13 games in 2022) and offers another communicator in the middle. They lacked a natural green-dot-wearing linebacker last year after Shaq Thompson went down with a broken leg in Week 2 (Luvu was learning the role on the fly, out of necessity), and Jewell gives them an option there with Thompson returning.

Of course, this roster is far from finished.

It's hard to replace a Brian Burns because players like him are rare, and for now, they're throwing numbers at the problem.

New outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum had 8.0 sacks last year and 23.0 in four seasons, offering some production but not all they need. They offered a low-cost opportunity to former Jaguars first-rounder K'Lavon Chaisson, but they're obviously not finished adding at the position. That's why they brought in Chase Young and Jadeveon Clowney on visits last week (a pair of former top-two picks) as they explore the market there.

They're also looking at adding more targets downfield, with reported visits for former Cowboys wideout Michael Gallup (career 14.1 yards per reception) and former Chargers receiver Mike Williams (15.6) on tap. Both have had some injury issues in the past, and there are multiple teams interested.

Adding an established pass-rusher and a legitimate downfield threat for Young would be two major pieces of business, and would allow them to go into the draft without glaring positional needs, which is the way you want to be going into a draft.

But the reality for the Panthers is that it will take more than one (busy week of) offseason to fill all the holes on the roster, and hitting on those draft picks (including the 33rd and 39th) will be crucial as they try to add stability to the roster).

But after last week, they're closer than they were before, and making steady forward progress is the only thing to do after a 2-15 season.

See the former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman in action.

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