Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for Carolina Panthers

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Free Agency Priorities for Carolina Panthers

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    With free agency set to begin on March 12, Carolina Panthers rookie general manager David Gettleman has to patch some holes without much financial flexibility.

    The Panthers are still working on getting below the salary cap, which is Gettleman's first order of business. In that effort, Ryan Kalil and Jonathan Stewart restructured their contracts, with Jordan Gross and Jon Beason being another couple of veterans who may wind up doing the same. 

    With franchise cornerstones on both sides of the ball, expectations will be high entering the 2013 season. There is no denying that the 2012 season was a bit of a disappointment, but the team saw tremendous improvement over the final six games of the season.

    In order for Ron Rivera to keep his job at the conclusion of next season, the Panthers will likely have to clinch a playoff berth. That means getting to 10 wins, which means Rivera will have to keep his team focused. 

    Being strategic is the key to the offseason for the Panthers this season, so we'll see just how well Gettleman can build a roster from the onset. 

    While it may be the offseason for players, it's an awfully busy one for GMs, scouts and other front office members. 

5. Drew Stanton

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    While Cam Newton is without a doubt the Carolina Panthers quarterback of the future, every team in the league should have an adequate backup. 

    The history of the NFL is littered with teams that collapsed after losing their starting quarterback to a season-ending injury. 

    Last year's backup Derek Anderson is an unrestricted free agent and will most likely be moving on. As one of the top quarterbacks on the open market, Anderson will be offered more money than the Panthers will be able to match. 

    Unless the Panthers bring someone else in via free agency or the draft, Jimmy Clausen will ascend to second on the depth chart. 

    Do you feel comfortable with Clausen leading the team if Newton were unable to play?

    I certainly wouldn't, hence targeting a quarterback in free agency.

    While Drew Stanton hasn't played in the past two years, he played relatively well for the Detroit Lions in 2010 when Matthew Stafford went down with an injury. 

    The price tag on Stanton should not be too high, so David Gettleman should certainly give his agent a call. 

4. Donnie Avery

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    Donnie Avery had the best season of his career in 2012, as he hauled in 60 receptions, 781 yards and three touchdowns. Clearly, being one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets was a great thing for Avery.

    This is a perfect time for Avery to hit the open market because his value has never been higher. 

    As a receiver, Avery is quick and explosive and is always a threat to make a big play. The biggest knock on Avery is his unsure hands, as he dropped 12 passes last season. 

    Steve Smith is entering his 13th season in the league, and Father Time will catch up with him eventually. Outside of Smith, the Panthers rely on Brandon LaFell, and he has been inconsistent. 

    David Gettleman must be proactive about improving Cam Newton's targets, even if he is limited financially. 

3. Chris Houston

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    Chris Houston was the best cornerback on the Detroit Lions roster last season and is a much cheaper alternative to Aqib Talib. 

    Whether or not Houston re-signs with the Lions is up in the air, but if he hits the open market, David Gettleman should make a play for him. 

    Houston may be too expensive for the Carolina Panthers, but anything can happen in the NFL. If Gettleman could get Houston under contract, the secondary would better than last year's unit. 

    While Houston only compiled two interceptions last year, that's only because he employs a safer and more consistent approach rather than focusing on making big plays. 

    Since he's entering his sixth season, the Panthers don't have to be too worried about him falling off athletically if they sign him to a three-year deal. 

    Carolina may have to settle for cheaper options like Antoine Cason or Kelvin Hayden. 

2. Ryan Harris

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    Ryan Harris started two games for the Houston Texans last season and would be a cheap option at right tackle. Even if Harris doesn't win the job in training camp, the competition will only be good for the offensive line. 

    Harris started his career with the Denver Broncos and played well before getting injured. Harris hasn't been the same player since the injury, but all hope should not be lost. 

    At 6'5" and 300 pounds, Harris has adequate size to play right tackle in the NFL. The problem has been injuries and durability, as there are serious questions regarding whether or not the Notre Dame product can remain healthy over the course of an entire season. 

    This would be a low-risk move for the Panthers, with the potential of shoring up the right side of their offensive line. 

1. Chris Canty

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    The Carolina Panthers have a glaring need at defensive tackle, as it's a position they must address through either free agency or the draft. 

    Chris Canty was a member of the New York Giants defensive line rotation for the past couple of years, so he's played in plenty of big games. Also, Canty is a Charlotte native, so signing with the Panthers would mean moving back home. 

    According to CBS Charlotte, Canty might be willing to take a hometown discount to return to his native city. If that's the case, David Gettleman shouldn't hesitate to get the paperwork going. 

    This seems like a natural fit, but that doesn't guarantee anything in the NFL. This move may be hindered by the Panthers cap situation, but it could still happen.