CHARLOTTE — What's next?
You hear that a lot around the Panthers' offices, and after the dust settled on a weekend full of deals and draft picks, it's worth taking a breath and taking a look at what they actually have (and don't have) at the moment.
By making so many deals and adding so many young players, the Panthers are effectively acknowledging the work-in-progress quality of the roster. For all the important moves they made, and talent added, there are still positions that are very much up in the air, leaving a lot of sifting and sorting to do when players actually get on the field.
That won't happen for a bit, as they have a rookie minicamp scheduled later this month. After that, the second phase of the voluntary offseason program begins, allowing a week with some on-field drills, before the OTA portion of the calendar starts May 24.
When they get on the field, there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Here's a position-by-position look at where things stand:
On the roster (4): Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Will Grier, Tommy Stevens.
Analysis: The Panthers did a lot of things over the weekend to make Darnold's life more secure. That's good news, but it also puts the bright light back on their quarterback.
By not drafting one, and picking up Darnold's fifth-year option, they've cast their lot with the former Jets first-rounder, and done their best to insulate him. Now it's on him to prove that he can grow into the job and earn that trust. It may not be New York, but there's still plenty of pressure.
For the backups, it appears to be status quo, with no new additions (though they could bring in a tryout quarterback for rookie minicamp).
On the roster (12): DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, David Moore, Terrace Marshall, Brandon Zylstra, Keith Kirkwood, Shi Smith, Omar Bayless, Marken Michel, Ventell Bryant, Ishmael Hyman, Micah Simon.
Analysis: Drafting a pair of wide receivers gives them a chance to grow young players, since they had an established pair of starters already. Anderson being in the final year of his deal made it important to add there, and free agent add David Moore gives them a different look than the departed Curtis Samuel. Marshall could make an impact sooner rather than later, and Smith being a true slot receiver gives him a chance to stand out.
The competition for the last couple of roster spots in training camp will be interesting, as they have a number of young wideouts who bring different skill sets. It's good to have options, and they have plenty of those.
On the roster (6+): Dan Arnold, Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas, Colin Thompson, Giovanni Ricci, Stephen Sullivan.
Analysis: This position comes with a big asterisk, as Tremble is a hard player to pin into one role. You might also have to throw sometimes-quarterback Stevens into the mix here.
For a team that likes versatile players, they have several. Arnold emerged as a red zone threat in Arizona last year. Tremble is part fullback, part H-back, part blocker, with the chance to develop as a receiver. Thomas showed glimpses last year, but the additions at the position might not leave many opportunities for him.
On the roster (7): Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Rodney Smith, Trenton Cannon, Reggie Bonnafon, Darius Clark, Spencer Brown.
Analysis: Drafting Hubbard in the fourth round gives them a new kind of backup to McCaffrey. His sprinter's speed gives them a different look than they had with Mike Davis (who left in free agency for Atlanta). If Hubbard can become reliable in the passing game (as a blocker and a receiver), he has a chance to be an upgrade.
Smith and Cannon each provided some value last year, and how the guys on this list not named McCaffrey contribute on special teams will likely determine which and how many of them make the final roster.
On the roster (2): Mikey Daniel, Mason Stokke.
Analysis: Again, Tremble could end up being a factor here, and the team has to decide exactly how they want to replace Alex Armah. A couple of young players will have chances, but it's impossible to know in May whether they'll keep a traditional fullback on the roster at all.
On the roster (16): Cameron Erving, Pat Elflein, Matt Paradis, John Miller, Taylor Moton, Trent Scott, Dennis Daley, Greg Little, Brady Christensen, Deonte Brown, Mike Horton, Sam Tecklenburg, Aaron Monteiro, Matt Kaskey, Martez Ivey, David Moore.
Analysis: This could take a minute, because all the turnover this offseason required an influx of new faces. Keeping Moton with the franchise tag was the most significant piece of non-quarterback business they did all offseason, and keeping him beyond this year is still something they want to do before the July 15 deadline for a long-term deal.
After that, take a deep breath, because it's hard to know how any of these positions will shake out.
At left tackle, it could be Erving. Or Daley. Or Scott. Or Christensen. But Christensen could also end up working at guard as well, since throwing a third-round rookie at such an important spot might be a little much to ask right now. So many of these guys have the flexibility to play multiple positions, which the coaching staff loves. It makes it a little hard to discern at the moment, but it gives them options for the future. Paradis is in the last year of his contract, so the long-term thought process at center could include Elflein. Between Miller, and Daley, and Brown, and Christensen, they have a lot of size, and again, options at guard.
It's not the mess it has been in the past, but it's also far from settled. It's going to take a lot of experimentation, work, and they can only hope that they can find the right five who will allow Darnold to be effective.
On the roster (7): Brian Burns, Yetur Gross-Matos, Morgan Fox, Austin Larkin, Marquis Haynes, Christian Miller, Frank Herron.
Analysis: Bringing in Fox gives them a similar type player to Efe Obada, as an end who can rush from inside on passing downs. Otherwise, it's a familiar group, with no draft picks used to bolster the position.
If Gross-Matos continues to develop the way he did last year (and stay healthy), they have a chance to have a solid front.
On the roster (7): Derrick Brown, DaQuan Jones, Bravvion Roy, Daviyon Nixon, Phil Hoskins, Mike Panasiuk, P.J. Johnson.
Analysis: Jones is the kind of capable veteran who lends stability to the entire line, giving them time to continue developing the young players.
Nixon was viewed as a value pick, and adding him in the fifth round gives a boost to an area that needed more help.
On the roster (10): Shaq Thompson, Haason Reddick, Jeremy Chinn, Denzel Perryman, Jermaine Carter, Frankie Luvu, Clay Johnston, Daniel Bituli, Chris Orr, Paddy Fisher.
Analysis: A couple of early offseason additions could change the way they deploy Chinn.
With a pass-rusher like Reddick coming aboard, and a solid two-down run-stopper in Perryman, the Panthers have more options at linebacker this year. That could allow Chinn to play a larger role in the secondary, though it's hard to imagine him ever only doing one thing.
Carter has shown to be capable, and Luvu has some pass-rush potential, so there's more depth than last season.
On the roster (8): Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, AJ Bouye, Rashaan Melvin, Troy Pride Jr., Stantley Thomas-Oliver, Keith Taylor, Jalen Julius.
Analysis: Without using the eighth pick in the draft on Horn, this would have been one of the biggest hold-your-breath spots on the roster.
Now, they have something resembling depth at the position, with young players they think can become something more.
Like Nixon, Taylor was a value pick, sticking out on their board relative to where they took him.
If Bouye can bounce back from the injuries that hampered him last year, and Jackson plays the way he did late in the season, and Horn is what he appears to be, they have a solid first three. Beyond that, having three other drafted corners on the roster leaves room to grow.
On the roster (6): Justin Burris, Sam Franklin, Myles Hartsfield, Kenny Robinson, Sean Chandler, J.T. Ibe.
Analysis: If you don't count Chinn in this group — and really even if you do — there are plenty of questions here.
Burris was solid last year, but beyond him, it's hard to know what you can count on. Franklin and Hartsfield grew into trustworthy bit players over the course of last year, and Robinson still has upside.
But there may not be a true free safety among them. The way the Panthers play mix-and-match on defense keeps it from being the biggest issue they face, but this is still a position of concern.
On the roster (6): Kickers Joey Slye and Matthew Ammendola, punters Joseph Charlton and Oscar Draguicevich, and long snappers J.J. Jansen and Thomas Fletcher.
The Panthers looked for options to compete with Slye, who hasn't been as consistent as you'd hope. That suggests the search for competition will continue until he gets better or gets replaced.
Using a sixth-round pick on Fletcher isn't a great sign for Jansen (the longest-tenured Panther), though they've said they're looking to create competition and haven't made any decisions yet.
See the Panthers top draft picks pose in front of a newly built set from Lowe's at Bank of America Stadium.