Picking 1 Free Agent to Fill Each of Carolina Panthers' Holes
While the start of free agency has been exciting for some fanbases, that has not been the case for Carolina Panthers fans.
Due to an unfavorable cap situation, first-year GM David Gettleman has had no choice but to watch as other teams signed this year's premium free agents. That may not be a bad thing, however, as championship-caliber teams are built through the draft.
That said, savvy GM's find ways to address priorities through free agency without negatively impacting the future of the franchise financially. Making a significant move or two without cap flexibility is the task that sits in front of Gettleman.
After working tirelessly to get the Panthers under the salary cap while maintaining a competitive roster, Gettleman's first free agency period as a GM will be equally as difficult.
The Panthers will work to fill their holes via free agency and the draft, which means only a few glaring needs will be addressed this month.
Hole: Offensive Guard
The Carolina Panthers have a need at guard, as interior offensive line play was poor in 2012. Amini Silatolu and Geoff Hangartner both struggled at times, with the rookie Silatolu looking completely lost at times in the second half of the season.
With franchise quarterback Cam Newton under center, the Panthers front office must prove they are serious about protecting their franchise quarterback. Due to their poor salary cap situation, Carolina will have to settle for a cheap option via free agency in order to improve along the offensive line.
Fortunately for the Panthers, attempting to sign one of the guards available from the remaining free agent pool will not lead to a bidding war.
With Andy Levitre and Louis Vasquez off the market, Brandon Moore is the preeminent guard remaining on the market. That being said, the Panthers won't be able to offer Moore a contract he would seriously consider.
In order to find an offensive lineman in Carolina's price range, you have to look down the list of free agents a bit farther.
Geoff Schwartz, who was drafted by the Panthers in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft, could fit the bill. While Schwartz wouldn't be an absolute game-changer, he could push both Silatolu and Hangartner during training camp.
Competition prior to the season makes football teams better, which is why the Panthers should focus on bringing in a variety of players at their need positions.
Hole: Wide Receiver
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With Steve Smith set to enter his 13th season as a member of the Carolina Panthers, it's time for the franchise to find his successor.
Outside of Smith, the Panthers best in-house option is Brandon LaFell. After spending four years at LSU, LaFell racked up 118 receptions, 1,758 yards and eight touchdowns in his three seasons as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
Those aren't the numbers of a budding No. 1 option, which means the Panthers would be wise to upgrade at the wide receiver position during the offseason.
Since Dave Gettleman didn't have the money to chase Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, Carolina will have to focus on targeting a player with an inconsistent resume.
Ex-Cleveland Browns' receiver Mohamed Massaquoi fits the bill, as the 6'2", 204-pound wideout failed to show improvement throughout his four seasons in Ohio. That said, Massaquoi could be signed to a team-friendly contract and has the ability to be an adequate option for Cam Newton.
Massaquoi has struggled with drops and route-running throughout his career, which certainly raises red flags. However, the Panthers aren't in position to be picky and Massaquoi comes with enough enough upside and an affordable contract to warrant the acquisition.
Hole: Defensive Tackle
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With Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy lining up at defensive end, the Carolina Panthers have the potential to have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. To get to that point, Dave Gettleman needs to bring in a difference maker at defensive tackle.
According to Joseph Person of CharlotteObserver.com, the Panthers have offered Dwan Edwards a one-year contract. To refresh your memory, Edwards was the only competent interior defensive lineman for the Panthers in 2012.
Even if Edwards accepts the Panthers offer and returns to the team, the defensive tackle position still needs to be addressed. There are no guarantees that Edwards will re-sign, but at least the Panthers are still in the hunt to retain his services.
While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran out of steam in the second half of last season, the play of defensive tackle Roy Miller was consistent throughout the season. While Miller isn't a threat to rush the quarterback, he's amongst the best run-stuffers in the league.
Considering that Edwards finished the season with six sacks, second most among defensive tackles, Carolina wouldn't need Miller to develop into a dominant pass rusher.
Bringing in Miller would instantly improve the rush defense, which would take pressure off the Panthers linebackers on early downs.
Having a legitimate run-stopper would do wonders for Carolina's defense, which is why Gettleman should focus on courting Miller.
Also, signing Miller would grant the Panthers more flexibility in April's draft, which the front office should covet.