Ranking the 2014 Impact of the Carolina Panthers' Free-Agent Signings so Far
Finally, the Carolina Panthers have made some headway and signed a few free agents as the second week of the free-agency period comes to a close. Unfortunately, the two positions requiring the most need have yet to be filled by a true No. 1 starter. This is the case at wide receiver. Regardless, the Panthers are in a better position now than they were a week ago.
However, what kind of impact will the signings have on the team in 2014?
There is little doubt the goal for Carolina is to get younger while using veteran leadership as a temporary bridge in the molding and mentoring process. Despite the recent signings, it stands to reason those positions will be aggressively addressed in the NFL draft later this spring.
For now, the current roster and the new additions to the Panthers still play a part in how successful the team will be next season. This slideshow is underwhelming to say the least, but it will serve as a means to illustrate the projected impact this year's free-agent signings and re-signings will have on the Panthers moving forward.
1. Jerricho Cotchery, WR
The Carolina wide receiver corps is so depleted that Jerricho Cotchery is the No. 1 receiver by default. As pointed out by Bleacher Report's own Knox Bardeen, he is not the savior the Panthers need. However, he will serve as the veteran presence due to the release of fan favorite Steve Smith.
His numbers after 10 professional seasons are not exactly elite, but they are solid when compared to the remaining receivers on the team. He did have 10 receiving touchdowns last year, but unless Carolina can find a way to keep the attention away from him, it should not expect to see a repeat of that production. Also, it is noteworthy that his scoring total from last year makes up a third of his career total.
There is a slight chance Cotchery could be called upon to return kicks on special teams. However, at 31 years old, he is not as young as he once was, and he is far from being an elite return specialist. He hasn't fielded a kick or a punt since the 2011 season, which suggests he cannot be used in that capacity any longer.
For now, he is the top receiver on the team. If the Panthers are able to draft one of the highly touted receivers who figure to be available late in the first round, Cotchery could be relegated to the No. 2 role. As mentioned earlier, he will be the veteran presence and can provide useful information to the young receivers who will be joining the team this spring.
2. Roman Harper, SS
Depending on your view of Roman Harper, you either love him or loathe him. Harper spent the first eight seasons of his NFL career with the rival New Orleans Saints. His signing came right after the release of Steve Smith, which was interesting considering the friction the two had when competing on the field.
However, Harper was stunned to see Smith be released, but it would have made for an interesting season had the two shared the same locker room.
As for Harper's on-field production, his numbers suggest he is more known for pass rushing than being a ball hawk. His 17 career sacks to seven career interceptions illustrates the point. He is a two-time Pro Bowl safety and will be a welcome addition to a secondary that became significantly weaker after Mike Mitchell signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If anything, Harper should provide the same level of intensity and production Mitchell did in 2013. His presence will make the secondary stronger, and whether he is paired with Charles Godfrey or Robert Lester, the interior of the unit should be solid next season.
Harper signed a two-year deal that could allow the Panthers to find his replacement either this year or next depending on the situation. Until then, he will be an adequate solution until a younger, more talented safety comes in to replace him.
3. Antoine Cason, CB
This signing makes sense because it fills a need that became more pressing after Captain Munnerlyn signed with the Minnesota Vikings and because Ron Rivera has ties to Antoine Cason from their time together in San Diego. Cason spent much of last year as a reserve player for the Arizona Cardinals. However, he was able to record 14 tackles and two interceptions—one which was returned for a touchdown.
When Cason was starting, he was a solid cornerback who was able to make plays. Assuming he can return to form as an every-down player, he will be efficient enough to keep the outside of the secondary intact and fill the void left by Munnerlyn.
Simply put, his level of impact will be much like Roman Harper's. As a veteran capable of making plays, he will be tasked with holding together a unit. Cason's deal is for one season, and it's likely Carolina will either look for his replacement early in this draft or target a cornerback as a potential first-round pick in 2015.
4. Tiquan Underwood, WR
Known more for his hair than his on-field contributions, Tiquan Underwood could very well be the kind of player who turns into a free-agent steal. Originally a seventh-round selection of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2009 draft, Underwood recorded his best season as a professional wideout last year when he caught 24 passes for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
There is potential for Underwood to grow into a solid NFL receiver. Aside from the five games he appeared in with the New England Patriots, he never had a quality quarterback throwing to him. If he can find good chemistry with Cam Newton, he could be a surprise player in the Carolina offense in the 2014 season.
As of right now, his impact should be in the same area as the current young receivers on the Panthers roster. However, his game experience and time in the league give him an edge. As noted earlier, he possesses a lot of potential and could grow into a decent receiver over the next two seasons.
The injury to Newton may hinder the pair from working together, but Underwood could easily be that under-the-radar player who becomes a breakout receiver in 2014.
5. Other Signings
This signing did indeed raise a few eyebrows, especially with Derek Anderson returning as Cam Newton's backup. However, Ron Rivera stated Webb would be a great player to look at while Newton is on the mend from his ankle surgery. It is possible the Panthers will carry three quarterbacks this season with the hope that Webb's similar skill set to Newton and growth allow him to assume the backup role in the future.
Derek Anderson, QB
Purely a case of keeping familiarity intact. Anderson and Newton have great chemistry together, and despite only appearing in limited action while in Carolina, Anderson has proven to be a reliable backup whenever called upon.
James Dockery, CB
Despite appearing in only 12 games as a member of the Carolina Panthers, Dockery is a decent backup when healthy. Not too much should be expected from him, as he will most likely serve as a depth player on the roster.
Richie Brockel, FB
With Mike Tolbert holding down the starting fullback duties, Brockel is nothing more than a backup who can be inserted at tight end if needed. Brockel may not see too much action, but when his number is called, it could be a trick play.
Garry Williams, OL
The Carolina offensive line is in dire need of help. Williams could be an option as a backup at tackle, but if the worst-case scenario presents itself, he could be called upon to start. For now, his impact level is solely depth at a depleted position.
Jason Williams, OLB
Known more for his special teams play than anything, Williams returns as a solid contributor on the unit and could fill in as a backup to give starter Thomas Davis or Chase Blackburn a rest.
Mike McNeill, TE
Having already been a part of the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams, McNeill is still trying to find his niche in the NFL. He hasn't been a solid contributor at the pro level, but his college numbers at Nebraska suggest he is very capable of being a pass-catching tight end. He will probably compete with Brandon Williams to back up Greg Olsen.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats and player information provided via Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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