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Free agency reset: What the Panthers accomplished in a week


CHARLOTTE — Man, what a month last week was.

Seven days have passed since the NFL opened the negotiating window for free agents, and allowed teams to begin re-shaping their rosters for the coming season.

And in those seven days, the Panthers have been as busy as any team in the league, notable for what they did and what they did not do (Seriously, go look at that list of transactions. That's not normal.). They haven't checked every box, but they're a more stable and deeper team than a week ago. That's a start.

So with the chance to take a breath, here's a look at what happened in the last week, and what it means for the rest of the offseason.

— While it was almost easy to lose in the dizzying pace of transactions, jammed into a busy Friday, the Panthers held on to a cornerstone player with a deal they technically didn't have to do for a year.

By signing wide receiver DJ Moore, they made a statement about what they would value and reward. The 2018 first-round pick had a year of his rookie contract left, and they lowered his salary cap number by signing him to a lucrative three-year extension.

Now, their most consistent offensive playmaker is under contract through the 2025 season, and they can build around him.

And Moore is clearly the kind of player you want to create a plan around. One, he's productive. Only one other receiver in the league has had three straight 1,100-yard seasons. And Stefon Diggs has had the luxury of catching passes from a pair of Pro Bowl quarterbacks (Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen), while Moore has not. Yet he persists, and provides a reliable target as well as an object lesson. His downfield blocking on plays he's not involved in earns him the respect of coaches and teammates, and shows why he's the kind of guy they want to invest in.

You can talk about what you want to be about. That's easy. Extending Moore gives those words meaning, and sends a message throughout the locker room. When your best players are your hardest workers, and they get rewarded, that gets noticed.

— Bringing unrestricted free agent cornerback Donte Jackson back underscored the theme, because he became the fourth member of the 2018 draft class to get a second contract here (they had previously signed Ian Thomas and Marquis Haynes Sr.).

The best way to sustain success in the league is to grow your own, and provide an environment where they can flourish. That's the second part of the Jackson transaction that's key. Having the 26-year-old team captain around will help reduce the burden on a very young cornerback room, where none of the other players have reached their 25th birthday.

He also brings back a little personality, and while the point is obviously to win games, it's easier to show up for work every day when it's fun.


— No, the Panthers did not acquire a quarterback, though they did try.

They made an offer for Deshaun Watson, though they weren't prepared to offer the kind of game-changing guarantees the Browns were. Thus, he's off to Cleveland, and the Panthers are still looking for a long-term answer at the position.

While they're going to get connected to every quarterback rumor — because once you get a reputation for "in on every deal," you get tied to ones you're not in on — they haven't shown themselves to be in a rush.

They're monitoring the market, but aren't in a hurry. They also have the option of this year's draft (or next year's), as the sixth overall pick should give them their choice — if they want one. There are no perfect options available at the moment, so forcing something now just to fill another line on the depth chart isn't necessarily wise.

— Speaking of filling the depth chart, the Panthers' swift moves last week shored up two of the thinnest positions on last year's roster — offensive line and linebacker.

By adding former Rams guard Austin Corbett and former Ravens center Bradley Bozeman, the Panthers gave themselves a pair of proven starters at competitive rates. Bozeman, in particular, coming in on a one-year deal, is a relative bargain.

Austin Corbett

A year ago, the Panthers were scrambling for qualified interior linemen and didn't always find them. When COVID-19 made a hash of the roster late in the season, they were calling in replacements in mid-week, only to have those replacements test positive and be sent home. That often left them with one actual center on the game-day roster, and a couple of emergency plans (everything short of using Brandon Zylstra there).

Upgrading the line was the top priority of this offseason, and the work continues. Adding a left tackle remains a possibility, though they're not going to blow the budget to do so. You'll see the team connected to reports on veteran tackles, but in some cases, that's more of an agent trying to drum up a market by suggesting competition than actual interest from the team. That's how the business works.

Remember, they still pick sixth in a draft deep in quality tackles, so they could potentially find one there, and be closer to having a group to build on for years to come.

While the linebacker upgrades aren't the kinds that attract national attention, plugging competent professionals Damien Wilson and Cory Littleton alongside Shaq Thompson gives them the depth they never enjoyed last year after trading Denzel Perryman before the regular season. Wilson's a bigger option in the middle, and will allow them to play Thompson more on the weak side, where he has more of a chance to make plays.

— While there's still some work to be done around the edges (they still need some pass-rush help and continue to look for it), the Panthers stabilized the defense up the middle.

Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis is a disruptive player inside when he's healthy. In 2018 and 2019 in Washington, he combined for 16.0 sacks and 27 quarterback hits. Planting him next to Derrick Brown gives them the opportunity for more of an interior rush, which you need after Haason Reddick took his 11.0 sacks to Philadelphia.

Landing safety Xavier Woods on a three-year deal early in the period fills in another need. He's more of a true free safety than they had on the roster, and pairing him with Jeremy Chinn in the middle of a young secondary (like Jackson, Woods is the old man at 26) should help.

— Other than Moore and Jackson, the last week of transactions didn't provide the kind of sizzle some teams created.

But the Panthers are a more settled team now, and deeper (running back D'Onta Foreman gives them a big back they didn't have after Mike Davis' departure). They also brought back some known commodities who can play multiple roles (Zylstra, Haynes, Sean Chandler). It's not the flashiest offseason, but the Panthers needed substance more than style.

— And lastly, the Panthers brought in some dudes who know how to win.

They signed three guys with Super Bowl rings (Corbett, Wilson, and punter Johnny Hekker), lending a little gravity to a young team. And Bozeman was a three-year starter for the Ravens, so he's seen the kind of consistent success the Panthers would like to attain.

It's not the reason you sign a player, but it's a nice bonus.

And now, the work continues.

View photos of Donte Jackson as he re-signed with the Panthers on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium.