Ranking the Carolina Panthers' Best Remaining Free-Agency Options
The NFL free-agency period is a week old, and the Carolina Panthers have been relatively quiet as many expected. Facing a less-than-ideal salary-cap limit, general manager Dave Gettleman appears to be watching the market play out and letting things cool off before offering contracts to any players of note. This strategy could backfire, as notable free-agent targets like Anthony Collins and Hakeem Nicks signed elsewhere after showing interest in the Panthers.
There is still some quality talent out there, but Carolina will not overpay to get what they want. It is likely that the longest contract they will offer will be three years, as the front office looks poised to continue last year's trend of offering one-year deals.
This slideshow will list the possible targets for the Carolina Panthers based on need and rank them in ascending order according to importance. Expect to see a lot of offensive positions in this presentation since that unit needs a lot of work.
Stats and free-agent lists provided by Rotoworld.
10. Josh Cribbs, WR/KR
More renowned for his contributions on special teams than his receiving skills, Josh Cribbs could be the veteran kick returner Carolina needs to replace Ted Ginn, Jr. Cribbs signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets after spending the first eight years of his career in Cleveland.
He shouldn't be the only return specialist on Carolina's radar, but he will likely be the most affordable one.
Carolina needs a spark in the return game, and with no clear front-runner for the job going into the 2014 season, Cribbs could be the bargain buy who can get the team just that. While he has experience on both kickoffs and punt returns, Cribbs has been more productive on the former with 10,505 yards and eight touchdowns on 407 attempts.
9. Tyson Clabo, OT
The Carolina Panthers need a lot of work on offense. One unit in desperate need of depth and improvement is the offensive line. With Jordan Gross retired, Carolina now has to find someone to protect Cam Newton's blindside. The smart money suggests drafting a rookie left tackle, but there is a possibility Byron Bell could be moved to the left side.
Regardless, the Panthers will need to add some depth, and a sound, veteran presence on the outside can help a lot.
Enter Tyson Clabo.
The offensive tackle has been in the league for eight years, seven of which were spent in Atlanta. That would make him the ideal fit for the Panthers since he is familiar with the NFC South. At 32 years of age, he could probably be signed to a one-year deal and could serve as a potential Band-Aid on the outside if Carolina is unable to find a suitable offensive tackle.
8. Travelle Wharton, OG/OT
Travelle Wharton was brought back to Carolina last season after being cut by the Cincinnati Bengals. His homecoming helped add depth to an already depleted offensive guard unit, and with uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness and health of Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila, he could be a consideration for another one-year contract.
However, Wharton has contemplated retirement.
Until he makes it official, Carolina will assume he is still available on the open market. It shouldn't be a problem bringing him back, and he can play both the interior and outside of the offensive line. Wharton was never particularly strong at the tackle position, but he is still an option nonetheless. If he does return for another season with the Panthers, it's likely he will be lining up at guard.
7. Quentin Jammer, CB
The Carolina Panthers will need someone to replace Captain Munnerlyn. The secondary was considered a weakness for the Panthers last year despite the defense being ranked second in the league. Based on his age (34) and experience, Quentin Jammer could be a realistic option to come in on a budget-friendly deal and play for one season.
Making his addition seem more feasible is the fact that coach Ron Rivera was his defensive coordinator in San Diego prior to taking the head coaching job in Carolina.
Recent history has proven that veterans have been willing to come to Charlotte to play for their former coaches, and coming off the strength of a 12-4 season, the upward trend could be appealing. The only knock against Jammer was his low production in 2013. He only played in 11 games and registered 14 tackles.
Then again, that will help lower his price.
Carolina has a lot of young talent at cornerback on the roster, but it would be in their best interest to have a veteran on the field. If Jammer can rebound from his worst season as a pro, he could add one more good season to his resume.
6. Devin Hester, WR/KR
Much like Josh Cribbs, Devin Hester has established himself as a dangerous return specialist. The only difference is that Hester was the first to make the trend cool. Released by the Chicago Bears after spending eight years with the team, Hester is in uncharted territory as a free agent.
His familiarity with Ron Rivera could play a role in his coming to Carolina, where there is a great need for both a kick returner and a wide receiver. It's unlikely he would appear that often in the offense, but it's a possibility.
Hester is very good at returning kicks and has made opponents look ridiculous on some occasions when they failed to stop him. It would be nice to get some of that ability out of him to serve the needs of the Panthers.
One would have to speculate that he will either end up in Carolina or in Tampa Bay, where his former head coach, Lovie Smith, is now coaching.
5. Sidney Rice, WR
There are three factors that should make Carolina appealing to Sidney Rice. First, the desperate need for wide receiver help. Second, the fact that he attended high school in Gaffney, South Carolina, which is about an hour away. Third, he played his college ball at the University of South Carolina.
Essentially, it would be a homecoming that could see him as the team's top receiver.
However, Rice has battled injuries and has struggled to stay on the field. That being said, if he can stay healthy and be the go-to guy in the offense, he can be very productive. His best year was in 2009 when he was with the Minnesota Vikings. He caught 83 passes for 1,312 yards and four touchdowns.
He is on the right side of 30 at the age of 27 and could be signed to a deal that will not break the Panthers' budget.
4. Drayton Florence, CB
Drayton Florence could be a possibility to return to Carolina for the 2014 season. He signed with the Panthers on a one-year contract last season and performed well. Through 14 games, he recorded 26 tackles and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. There is no reason to believe he won't be offered a new deal within the next couple of weeks.
If Florence is extended an offer, it probably won't come until later in the signing period after the market has cooled. Dave Gettleman and his staff are repeating last year's strategy to keep the cost of signing free agents down.
He may not be the long-term solution the team is looking for but will be sufficient for at least a year.
3. Asante Samuel, CB
Another cornerback who is at the twilight of his career is Asante Samuel. After spending the past two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, the former Pro Bowl cornerback could be a short-term option for the Panthers. It seems likely he will accept a one-year contract since going to Carolina would keep him in the NFC South.
According to Rotoworld, the Panthers didn't seem to have interest in Samuel back in early February. However, recent events may prompt them to reconsider.
Samuel has a history with Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who coached him while the two were in Philadelphia. That should afford Samuel some degree of familiarity with the Panthers' defensive scheme.
Even if he isn't on the short list in the Carolina front office, Dave Gettleman and his staff should at least keep the option open.
2. Donald Penn, OT
Proven to be durable with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Donald Penn started every game with them over the past six years. His familiarity with the NFC South could benefit both him and the Carolina Panthers. While no official word has been made about him visiting Carolina, Penn has recently met with Oakland and Washington.
His asking price may be too rich for the Panthers to pay, but he is worth watching since many of the better offensive tackles on the market are no longer available.
1. James Jones, WR
Many speculated that former New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks would be the team's top prize to come out of free agency. That all changed when Nicks signed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts.
The signing meant fewer high-end receivers were available, so now the Panthers' focus should be shifted to James Jones.
The wide receiver was very consistent while at Green Bay, and as of now the Panthers are keeping tabs on him. After the release of Steve Smith, Carolina literally has no wide receivers who caught a pass on their roster.
Since the Panthers need two starting-caliber receivers, it makes sense that at least one will be a veteran. However, it can be expected that Carolina will try to sign another veteran wide receiver for a significantly lower price.
The Panthers are not the sort to spend a lot of money early in free agency, but the need to build their receiving corps could force them to disregard that strategy.
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