5 Veteran Free Agents the Carolina Panthers Should Bring in for Training Camp
Panthers G.M., Marty Hurney. Photo courtesy of Panthers.com.
The Carolina Panthers are less than three weeks away from the start of training camp (July 27-Aug. 15, 2012 at Wofford College) which means there is not much time left to sign veteran free agents before practice begins in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Granted, Panthers general manager Marty Hurney prefers to build his teams through the draft as opposed to free agency, but there is at least a handful of NFL veterans who have yet to sign with a team and who can make an impact on the field for the Carolina Panthers.
Though the Panthers appear to have their 90-man roster set for training camp and there has been no recent news to suggest they plan to take the free agency route in the coming weeks, here is a look at five guys who Hurney and Ron Rivera should consider inviting to camp.
TE, Jeremy Shockey
Jeremy Shockey with the Panthers in 2011.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
If there is any unsigned NFL free agent that Marty Hurney and the Carolina Panthers should reach out to before training camp begins, it is Jeremy Shockey.
Shockey had a productive year with the Panthers in 2011, catching 37 passes for 455 yards and four touchdowns in his first season with the team.
Though the four-time Pro Bowler's production has declined in each of the past five seasons after catching 65 passes in 2005 and 66 balls in 2006, Shockey gave the Panthers a second dangerous receiving tight end along with Greg Olsen last year.
Shocking as it was, Shockey was a well-behaved, positive locker room influence for the Panthers and he remains a superior receiving option at tight end than Carolina's current No. 2 TE, Gary Barnidge.
Shockey has tested out the free agency waters this offseason as an unsigned veteran and he has yet to sign a tender to report to anyone's camp, so I would not be surprised to see him reunite with Jerry Richardson in Spartanburg.
QB, Dennis Dixon
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
An NFL team is only as good as its backup quarterback if the starter goes down, and with the various spread offenses and read-option attacks the Carolina Panthers employ, they need to have a second athletic quarterback on the roster behind Cam Newton.
Newton is the Panthers' quarterback for the foreseeable future and Derek Anderson will remain Newton's primary backup in 2012, leaving third-stringer Jimmy Clausen wearing sweatpants and a baseball cap on the sidelines again this season unless they move him and bring in a guy like Dennis Dixon to take his place.
Since Clausen is unlikely to ever suit up again in a meaningful game for the Carolina Panthers, why keep him around?
Dixon filled in at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of times in 2009 and 2010 when Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch were out of commission, and he moved the chains with his legs and his arm.
At this point in his career, it does not look like Dixon has what it takes to be a full-time starter in the NFL, but he is a serviceable backup who can run the Panthers' offense in a pinch.
WR, Greg Camarillo
Greg Camarillo (85) with the Minnesota Vikings.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
I have been pleading for the Carolina Panthers to bring in a veteran free-agent wide receiver ever since the Denver Broncos put Brandon Lloyd on the trading block last season, so it is only fitting that I plead my case once again.
Only this time, it is not for a No. 2 receiver to replace Brandon LaFell, but for a sure-handed player who can fill the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver spot and can be relied upon to come through with a catch whenever it is needed just to move the chains or to give David Gettis and LaFell a break.
That player is Greg Camarillo.
Camarillo was lost into the ether in Minnesota last season playing with Vikings quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder, but he is only a couple of years removed from back-to-back 50-plus catch seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
Camarillo will not be a threat to take playing time away from LaFell or Gettis, but he is a more polished receiver than Kealoha Pilares and Joe Adams and he is a viable alternative at the No. 3 wide receiver position if Gettis' knee is not right this season.
He can also help put an end to the Armanti Edwards experiment in Charlotte once and for all.
NT, Igor Olshansky
Igor Olshansky with the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
The Carolina Panthers' interior defensive line was among the NFL's worst in 2011 and the Panthers have done nothing to address the unit this offseason in terms of bringing in new players besides getting Ron Edwards back from the IR list.
Igor Olshansky, who played one season under Panthers coach Ron Rivera when he was the San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator in 2008, can play the nose tackle position whenever Carolina lines up in a 3-4 defense, and he would add depth to the defensive line rotation.
The only knock against Olshansky, and it is a big knock when your team's owner is Jerry Richardson, is that he was arrested on a marijuana charge for simple possession the day after being released by the Miami Dolphins last December.
I am all for giving people a second chance—and while I do not condone the use of recreational drugs—who can blame the guy for wanting to relax a little after being cut by his team late in the season?
It is unlikely that the Panthers will make a run at Olshansky, but he is a guy who could step in immediately to help improve Carolina's defense.
CB, Lito Sheppard
Lito Sheppard (21) helps break up a pass against the Chicago Bears in 2011.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It was the best of times and it was the worst of times for Carolina's cornerbacks in 2011.
Chris Gamble re-emerged as a shutdown corner last season while Captain Munnerlyn had the worst season of any cornerback in the NFL.
Munnerlyn, who did not have a single interception in 2011, allowed a league-high 73.8 percent completion rate, along with 10.0 yards per attempt when the ball was thrown his way.
Panthers rookie cornerback Josh Norman and second-year defensive back Brandon Hogan will battle with Munnerlyn for the starting cornerback spot opposite Gamble, and Norman appears to have the upper hand heading into training camp based on his strong performance at the Panthers' minicamps and OTAs.
However, Carolina could benefit from having another proven veteran corner in camp and former All-Pro Lito Sheppard is available.
Sheppard is not the same player he was during his glory days with the Philadelphia Eagles from 2004-2006, but the former Florida Gators star can provide stability in the secondary and veteran leadership to further Norman's and Hogan's development.
Jimmy Grappone is a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Carolina Panthers for Bleacher Report since 2008.
You can follow me on Twitter @jimmygrappone.
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