Best and Worst Moves the Carolina Panthers Have Made in Free Agency
Carolina Panther general manager Dave Gettleman has been busy this offseason—some Carolina fans would argue not busy enough, with many roster holes still open weeks into free agency.
Former wide receiver Steve Smith was released, Jordan Gross retired, Captain Munnerlyn didn't resign with the team. Many questions remain in regards to the direction the team will travel and who will be along for the ride for the 2014 season.
The only sure-fire group of the team returning is the defense—the front seven at least. Questions remain in the secondary, just like last season's "legion of whom."
Bottom line, the team still has many moves make; the only question is when they will happen. Will the team be aggressive during the draft? Or will they look to pick up additional players in the preseason after cuts?
Here is the best and worst moves the Panthers have made thus far this offseason.
Bad: Releasing Steve Smith
Steve Smith will be 35 years old this season; he’s also probably a bit overpaid. However, if the Panthers were going to rid themselves of the franchise’s best player it should’ve come via trade.
Even though Smith will be suiting up in black and purple for the Baltimore Ravens, the Panthers will still be paying part of his contract.
Essentially, the Panthers are paying Smith $3 million to play for the Ravens.
Smith told Charlotte's WFNZ that if he played against the Panthers this upcoming season that there would be "...blood and guts everywhere."
And as fate would have it, Smith will indeed line up against his former team this season.
"Smitty" had his problems as a Panther: He was suspended twice for punching teammates. Despite his sometimes-questionable attitude, he was a player the Panthers should have never let walk away.
Good: Retaining Greg Hardy
Retaining Greg Hardy had to be the team’s No. 1 priority headed into this offseason.
Hardy tallied 15 sacks last season, tying a franchise record. The risk of letting “The Kraken” test the open water was too high a risk.
Whether it was signing him to a long-term deal or franchising him, the team had to find a way to keep him in Charlotte. And they did, placing the franchise tag, $13 million, on the fourth-year pro, according to Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer.
With Hardy returning, the team will retain its stellar pair of defensive end, Hardy and Charles Johnson, and most of the team's front seven from last season.
Whether or not the Panthers' offense takes shape by the start of the 2014 season, bringing back Hardy was essential to help the Panthers reproduce the defensive production that gave opposing offenses fits last season.
Good: Signing Jerricho Cotchery
Jerricho Cotchery may have more catches than all the other receivers combined on the Panthers roster, but he wasn’t brought in for his stats.
It was about his experience, something the rest of the receiving corps lacks.
Last season with the Steelers, he compiled 602 yards and tallied a career-best 10 touchdowns.
Also a plus, he is familiar with the area as well, having played college ball at N.C. State in Raleigh.
Bad: Captain Munnerlyn Signing with Minnesota
For the past five seasons with the Panthers, Captain Munnerlyn has been the “feel good” story of the defense.
Drafted in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL draft, Munnerlyn fought his way onto the Panthers roster his rookie season and worked his way to becoming arguably the team’s best cornerback.
Of all the Panthers' unrestricted free agents, Munnerlyn may have been the most sure-fire player to return. However, he’ll be suiting up for the Minnesota Vikings next season after signing a three-year, $15 million contract, according to NFL.com.
Last season for the Panthers, Munnerlyn tallied 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two pick-sixes—tied for the NFL lead.
Good: Not Signing Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks is a potential top-tier wide receiver, and a Charlotte N.C. native, but Panther Nation should rejoice that the former New York Giant won’t join the team. Nicks signed a one-year $5.5 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts, according to ESPN.
His ties with Gettleman, the former senior pro personnel analysis with the Giants, and with the state of North Carolina—playing his college ball at UNC-Chapel Hill—presented a potential favorable landing spot with the six-year pro.
However, the idea of catching passes from rising star quarterback, Andrew Luck, apparently made the Colts more attractive.
Nicks has suffered numerous injuries the past few seasons, including a broken foot in 2012, which may have slowed his production last season. He recorded 56 catches and 896 yards in 15 games but didn’t record a touchdown for the Giants.
With the acquisition of Cotchery, the Panthers have found that veteran receiver “voice” who can also produce on the field.
Nicks comes with baggage; the Panthers don’t need any more wide receiver drama.