2012 NFL Free Agents: Carolina Panthers and Teams in Dire Need of Defensive Help

Thad NovakCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 30: Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings scores a touchdown against Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on October 30, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Matt Flynn’s record-setting regular-season finale ensured that offense would (as usual) dominate the free-agent buzz this offseason. For many NFL clubs, though, the biggest concern in the offseason will be bringing in help on the other side of the ball.

These three teams need to find some answers on defense if they hope to avoid another losing season in 2012:


Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton turned the Carolina offense around in a hurry, but he couldn’t do anything to keep the team afloat on the other side of the ball. It took a late-season improvement for the Panther run defense to rank as high as 25th in the NFL on the year, and the pass defense wasn’t much better at 24th overall.

The Panthers held onto Charles Johnson in free agency a year ago, but the rest of the D-line could use some help. Mario Williams is probably out of Carolina’s price range, but a more affordable playmaker (perhaps a veteran like Cory Redding of the Ravens or Indy’s Robert Mathis, wouldn’t come amiss.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The 2011 Buccaneers had the worst yardage defense of any non-playoff team and the worst scoring defense of any team, period. The youth movement on the defensive line—Gerald McCoy two drafts ago and Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers last spring—has yet to pay dividends, so an established starter would be a welcome addition.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 09:   Frank Gore #21 of the San Francisco 49ers runs past a diving  Mason Foster #59 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park on October 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

OLB's Geno Hayes and Quincy Black have both failed to prove themselves in several years of NFL play. There are very few established 4-3 LB's to be had, so Tampa may have to try converting a 3-4 ‘backer like Dallas’ Anthony Spencer.


Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota secondary has been a disaster, because of a rash of injuries last season and because even the nominal starters aren’t actually very good. The net result was the 26th-ranked pass defense in the NFL and 28.1 points allowed per game (second-worst in the league).

The supply of available corners isn’t exactly world-beating (which might provoke Minnesota to spend its No. 3 overall draft pick on the position), but there is talent to be had.

Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan would improve the pass coverage without hurting the team’s hard-nosed run defense, and restricted FA Lardarius Webb would also be a great option if the Vikings are willing to outbid Baltimore.