5 Biggest Needs the Carolina Panthers Have Yet to Address This Offseason
While the team did retain defensive end Greg Hardy by using the franchise tag, Carolina has been relatively quiet during the month of March. Aside from re-signing some minor free agents, the only notable signing has been that of former New Orleans Saints safety Roman Harper.
Other than that, the Panthers offseason has been defined as one in which many of their notable players from last year have departed for other teams.
It hasn't helped matters that high-profile free agents like Hakeem Nicks and James Jones decided to sign elsewhere, thus leaving a receiver depleted team in a very tight spot with the market thinning everyday. While bolstering the wide receiver spot has been the focal point this offseason, Carolina still has needs at offensive tackle, cornerback and kick returner.
The next few slides will examine the biggest needs that the Panthers have yet to address this offseason.
What happens when a team finds itself having lost all of its receivers who caught a pass the previous season?
You reload, of course.
Yet, the Carolina Panthers have not really made any waves in terms of signing any of the open market's noteworthy receivers. As mentioned in the introductory slide, it was amazing to see the Panthers miss out on both Hakeem Nicks and James Jones. Now, the number of available receivers is dwindling, and fans are becoming impatient with the the Dave Gettleman-led front office.
To really appreciate the gravity of the situation, please remember that when Steve Smith was released, he was immediately regarded as the seventh-best receiver on the free-agent market. What makes it even more frustrating (for Panthers fans at least) is that Smith is ranked higher than any remaining free-agent wide receiver left.
Not to beat a dead horse, but why release your best receiver and make a deep hole that much deeper?
This past week, however, the Panthers signed Jerricho Cotchery, and he will provide a veteran presence at the position. Another name that has come up has been former Tennessee Titans receiver Kenny Britt. Right now, it seems as though Britt is visiting every team but the Panthers. Still, he is a player to keep an eye on.
There are other possible candidates for Carolina to look at but each has their own set of concerns. Players such as Santonio Holmes (ability to pass a physical), Darrius Heyward-Bey (total bust in Indianapolis last year) and Miles Austin (injury concerns) are still available but pose questions as to how effective they can be as go-to options in the Panthers offense.
Carolina still has wide receivers on the team, but none of them caught a pass last year for the Panthers. It wouldn't be surprising to see Tavarres King, Marvin McNutt, Kealoha Pilares, R.J. Webb, Brenton Bersin and Toney Clemons get the opportunity to compete for a spot as the third and fourth receivers on the depth chart.
Other options to be considered are former Atlanta Falcons receiver Kevin Cone and Washington receiver Josh Morgan. Both have garnered interest from Carolina as of late. They are lesser-known players, who if signed, will have everyone scratching their heads about the rebuilding strategy the Panthers have for the offense.
It's also possible, the Panthers use at least two draft picks on wide receivers, but whether or not they will use a first-round selection on a wideout is unknown.
While the Panthers have addressed this need, the hole is still deep enough to merit a place on this slideshow. There is no way the front office will not consider adding one more veterans to the mix.
Regardless of how the unit turns out, there will be plenty of new faces, as Carolina will probably field one of the youngest receiver corps in the league.
Who will protect Cam Newton's blind side for the foreseeable future? Is Byron Bell a long-term option at right tackle or is he capable of providing sound protection at left tackle?
Those are just a couple of questions surrounding the other big need Carolina is faced with this offseason. The lack of depth and talent at both offensive tackle and wide receiver should compel the Panthers to use the draft to fill those holes. But that needn't be the case, even though the free-agent market is losing many top names at the tackle position. The need for a temporary solution could mean that Carolina will pursue and sign one of the remaining free-agent linemen.
Carolina could also look to the draft in order to shore up the need. Assuming the Panthers sign a free-agent receiver before the draft, it's likely they could use their first-round selection on an offensive tackle.
Top offensive line prospects include Morgan Moses from Virginia and Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama. Much like the incoming wide receiver class, this draft's offensive line prospects appear to offer more value than what's available on the current free-agent market.
It's safe to assume that Carolina will use more than one draft pick on an offensive tackle this spring.
When the final roster is revealed, it wouldn't be surprising to see the offensive line comprised of young, fresh faces who will grow with the team over the next few years.
The secondary of the Carolina Panthers defense could use a boost. It is even more imperative that the position gets upgraded with Captain Munnerlyn jumping ship to play with the Minnesota Vikings. The loss of Mike Mitchell at safety was resolved with the signing of Roman Harper and he should serve as an adequate player for the next couple of seasons.
That leaves the outside of the secondary to be addressed.
The remaining cornerbacks on the roster are James Dockery, Josh Thomas, Josh Norman, Melvin White, De'Quan Menzie and De'Andre Presley. While all of them have proven to be efficient, there is still no clear-cut shutdown corner on the team.
It's unlikely Drayton Florence returns to Carolina for the 2014 season. Meanwhile, former New York Giants defensive back Terrell Thomas and former Arizona Cardinals reserve corner, Antoine Cason have generated interest from the Panthers.
Thomas has ties to Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman from their time together in New York. As history has shown, Gettleman likes to deal with his former team when it pertains to player transactions. The one concern surrounding Thomas is his ability to bounce back from an injury history that includes three torn ACLs. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis is the only player who returned from such extensive knee issues to be a productive player, and the team has to consider the risks of having two players with knee concerns on defense.
Cason has ties to the Panthers as well. He spent several seasons with head coach Ron Rivera in San Diego, and a reunion could be in the works. He will provide suitable competition in camp, after he was relegated to a reserve position in Arizona last year. Cason has recorded at least two interceptions in each of six NFL seasons. If he is signed, the Panthers will have a reliable veteran presence at cornerback.
Cason looks poised to join Carolina but had to delay his trip to Charlotte because he was switching agents. His new representative is Drew Rosenhaus, and it should be interesting to see what kind of deal the high-profile agent tries to get for his client.
There is still a chance Carolina drafts a defensive back within the first three rounds. However, one more veteran addition could alleviate the immediate need at the position and allow the team to focus on more pressing needs on offense.
The duties of the team's return specialist were discussed in a recent Bleacher Report article. The need may seem not too important, but the fact remains that Ted Ginn Jr. is no longer a part of the team. Carolina will need someone trustworthy to return kicks and punts, as the Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards experiments bombed miserably.
The current roster features two likely front-runners for the return job in 2014: Kenjon Barner and Kealoha Pilares. However, Pilares is recovering from a knee injury and may not be a viable option. Even if Barner is tasked with fielding kicks and punts next season, he will need someone to pair up with, especially on kickoffs.
Free-agent Josh Cribbs rounds out the lower echelon of the remaining available receivers. He is a proven return specialist and could be an asset to any team.
Cribbs could be brought in on the cheap. He may not be as explosive as a returner as he once was, but he could do enough to provide Carolina some decent starting position. Cribbs was placed on the injured reserve last year by the New York Jets after tearing his pectoral muscles. A proven veteran in the return game would be nice, but the Panthers could lean towards addressing the need in the draft.
First-round prospects like Justin Gilbert and Odell Beckham Jr. are both capable of playing on special teams, but it's unlikely Carolina would want to subject a top pick to the rigors of return duties. If this is the case, there are possibilities in the middle rounds.
The need at offensive guard is not nearly as pressing as offensive tackle; the position was ravaged by injuries last year, forcing Carolina to bring back Travelle Wharton and move Nate Chandler from defensive tackle to guard.
Adding a little more depth and talent could go a long way in keeping the offensive front in check.
The jury is still out on young guards Amini Silatolu and Edmund Kugbila, but if they can stay healthy and get some reps, they could be contributors. Of course, if they continue to battle injuries, they will be considered draft-day busts.
Wharton had considered retirement, but could return for another season. Whether that is with the Panthers remains to be seen, as he has been linked to Minnesota. There haven't been too many guards to appear on Carolina's radar outside of Wharton, and it's still possible they sign someone late in free agency.
Drafting another guard is an option, but it will probably come down to how comfortable the team is with their current players. The potential is there, but it's worthless if injuries keep them off the field.