Projecting Carolina's NFL Free Agent Targets
The Carolina Panthers have not made too much noise this offseason as they have restructured contracts and signed a couple players to fill in gaps on the roster. As the new NFL season gets closer, the Panthers still find themselves deciding on which of their free agents they will try to retain and which ones they can afford to sign from around the league.
The biggest issue going against them is their current salary cap. While they have restructured a few deals to get closer to the $123 million projected ceiling, they are nowhere close to making a serious run at some of the marquee names on the market.
Carolina is expected to release veteran cornerback Chris Gamble which would free up a lot of money and should allow the Panthers to have some breathing room. Gamble's cap figure is worth $10.9 million, and the only question remaining is, when will he be released?
Aside from the departure of Gamble and other Carolina free agents, the team needs to decide which positions they need to build upon with veteran talent and which unproven rookies they can sign after the draft to assign to their scout team with hopes of making the active roster.
This slideshow will address different positions the Panthers could shore up via free agency. It should be noted there will be no major free agents on this list as Carolina lacks the spending room.
Note: The free agents on this slide show are derived from the Rotoworld free agent list. At the time of this posting, all players listed are still available on the open market.
Reason for Need: Solid backup
Likely Candidate: Derek Anderson
An earlier article discussed possible options to back up Cam Newton with the free agency of Derek Anderson. While there has been speculation about Anderson reuniting with former Panthers offensive coordinator and current Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski, it should be noted that Anderson did not depart Cleveland as the most popular guy in town. Cleveland is a great sports town, but it is unknown whether or not they would accept Anderson's return with open arms.
Why He Fits
This is an ideal choice for a couple of reasons. First, he is an affordable option (his previous deal was for one year at $825K), and he is familiar with the offense and the personnel. There is no other QB in the free agent pool that can bring that to the table.
Anderson has been backing up Newton for the past two seasons, and he has proven himself when called upon, as evidenced in the season finale against New Orleans when Newton was out with an injury for a few plays.
Regardless of who the Panthers sign as the second string quarterback, the general consensus has to be hoping that Jimmy Clausen is not promoted from third string.
Reason for Need: Provide Newton with more options in the passing game not named Steve Smith
Likely Candidates: Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden or Louis Murphy
Carolina needs to upgrade their passing game without breaking the bank. Given their current financial situation, it is unlikely the Panthers will target Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace. Unless they take a wide receiver in the first round, it seems as their wide receiver options will have ties to the organization.
Why They Fit
Murphy already has experience playing in Carolina, and he had some good moments during the 2012 season. However, he only had 25 receptions for 336 yards and one touchdown. If the Panthers are to grow in the passing game, they will require more productivity from their secondary receivers.
Hixon and Barden may be enticed to play for Carolina since Dave Gettleman is the Panthers' new general manager. He is familiar with both men from his time with the New York Giants, and they both could be very affordable. Hixon is similar to Murphy statistically as he hasn't put up big numbers but is a proven third or fourth receiver.
Barden is the most expensive of this group having wrapped up a four year, $2.4 million contract. But considering he did not do too much during his time with the Giants, his next deal could be a lot less. He offers a lot of potential as he enjoyed a career day against the Panthers last season with nine receptions for 138 yards. Additionally, he would provide Newton with a big target in the red zone as he is 6'6".
The best possible outcome is that one of these guys steps up as a breakout receiver. Barden and Hixon seem to be the likely candidates as Murphy may return but to the same role he had before without improving upon last year's numbers.
Reason for Need: Durable Starter/Solid Backup Option
Most Likely Candidate: Dwan Edwards
Edwards was brought in last year to fill a big hole on the defensive line's interior. The move proved to be better than anyone expected. He recorded six sacks in 14 games to go along with his 52 tackles. Combine his sack totals with those from defensive ends Charles Johnson (12.5) and Greg Hardy (11.0), and suddenly the Panthers are one stud defensive tackle away from having an outstanding defensive front.
Why He Fits
He has a season under his belt in defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's scheme, and the unit seemed to be grasping his philosophy late in the season. It would make sense for Carolina to retain Edwards who can start along side a rookie defensive tackle and mentor him throughout the season while playing in a 4-3 base defense.
Considering the Panthers have struggled to find the right player to anchor the defensive line, it would be a shame to let go the one player who put together a solid season from his position. Fortunately, for Edwards, the team and the fans alike, there may be an agreement on the horizon as both parties seem interested in negotiating a new deal.
Resigning Edwards would be the first step in the right direction for the Panthers as they look to keep the bulk of their defense intact.
Reason for Need: Starter
Most Likely Candidates: Captain Munnerlyn and Quentin Jammer
There was a lot of concern about Munnerlyn filling in for Chris Gamble when he went down with an injury and was lost for the rest of the 2012 season. Despite Munnerlyn playing a position that had proved challenging in the past (he usually plays at the nickel cornerback position), he and Josh Norman did an admirable job of keeping opponents from becoming pass happy. Jammer provides another option though he is older, but he still has a little bit left in the tank and could explore the possibility of jumping from one coast to the other.
Why They Fit
After putting together a solid, yet unspectacular season as the starting corner, Captain Munnerlyn has earned the chance to claim the role has his own. Unlike last season, he will have more support sliding into the position and could prove to be very good.
Jammer isn't as young as he used to be, and he dealt with a hand injury last season. In spite of all this, he did pick off three passes and returned one for a score. Jammer is familiar with head coach Ron Rivera, and it wouldn't shock anyone if he joined the list of former San Diego Chargers who made the exodus to Charlotte.
Ultimately, Munnerlyn should be resigned even though he is still awaiting word on what the team wants to do with him. Bringing him back would make a lot of sense as it keeps the defensive continuity together.
Reason for Need: Provide Cam Newton adequate protection from both sides
Most Likely Candidate: Unknown
This is probably one area of the team that is very much in the air. If the team had the money, there is no doubt they would pursue Miami offensive tackle Jake Long. However, given their financial limitations, it seems likely they will bolster the offensive line through the draft or bring in an affordable free agent who will probably be signed to a one-year deal.
This aspect of the team will become just as important as the receiving corps if the Panthers hope to limit the amount of rushes from Newton. Given that Ryan Kalil and Jordan Gross are no longer young, Carolina may hesitate exploring the free agent market for a veteran over the age of 30.
In the end, the biggest drawback will be spending money, and unfortunately for the Carolina Panthers, they don't have it.