Cam Newton: 10 Free Agents the Carolina Panthers Should Sign to Aid the QB

Jason HeimCorrespondent IMay 31, 2011

Cam Newton: 10 Free Agents the Carolina Panthers Should Sign to Aid the QB

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Cam Newton attends the NFL PLAYERS Premiere League Flag Football Game at UCLA on May 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers got their man in top overall pick Cam Newton.

    However good he might be though, he can't solve all the Panthers' problems, which is why they were 2-14 in the first place in 2010.

    To return his new team to respectability in the NFC South, Newton will need to be the leader of a true team effort. The problem is, the Panthers have one of the most talent-starved rosters in the National Football League. The best way to make a quick turnaround is to be aggressive in free agency, where you can turn an also-ran into a .500 team almost overnight. The Panthers have one of the lowest payrolls in the league, which means they can throw tens of millions at impact players should they decide to.

    Here are 10 free agents at positions of weakness that the Carolina Panthers should pursue to improve the team.  

Harvey Dahl, RG

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 17:  Harvey Dahl #73 of the Atlanta Falcons in action against Stewart Bradley #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 17, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty I
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Geoff Schwartz, the three-year veteran out of Oregon, is the incumbent right guard in Carolina. The Panthers would love to improve their production out of the position than what the seventh-rounder gave them last year.

    Schwartz has essentially been a stopgap. Dahl is a Pro-Bowl caliber guard. The Atlanta Falcon was a major contributor to a unit that gave up the third-fewest sacks in the NFL in 2010.

    The Panthers would double up on impact with this signing by gaining a strong guard and taking him away from a division rival.

Le'Ron McClain, FB

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    SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Le'Ron McClain #33 of the Baltimore Ravens plays against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 20, 2009 in San Diego, California. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 31-26.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers were a top half team in rushing yards last season, yet scored the least points in the NFL

    What gives, you ask?

    The team ranked dead last in the NFL in first downs and 28th in first downs by run play. Their third down conversion rate, 30.4 percent, was 30th. This signals that an inability to move the chains in general, and precedes a scoring shortage. If you can't get a new set of downs, you're not going to score. Pretty simple.

    This is why free agent fullback Le'Ron McClain would be a huge addition to Carolina. Not only is McClain a solid run blocker, but he also has great yards per carry and is masterful in short yardage situations. In 2008, McClain scored 10 TD and tallied almost 1000 rushing yards. 

    Tony Fiammetta just hasn't shown that he's any good, and he's only two years younger than McClain. This change would make the rushing game, Carolina's lone strength, even stronger.

Zach Miller, TE

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    OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Zach Miller #80 of the Oakland Raiders in action against the Miami Dolphins at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 28, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Right. The Panthers signed Jeremy Shockey as they waved goodbye to Jeff King. Forgive my lack of enthusiasm over adding Shockey to the roster.

    Shockey is so washed up that Randy Moss thinks he should retire. He hasn't added anything to an offense since the '06-'07 New York Giants.

    If the Panthers want to treat the tight end problem instead of putting a Band-Aid on it, they should sign Zach Miller, who, at just 25, has become one of the most respected players at his position.

    Miller is young, on the rise, and could provide a calming last resort receiver for when Cam Newton has to run for his life. 

Justin Blalock, LG

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    PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 17:  Justin Blalock #63 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up against the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 17, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Justin Blalock, the 27-year-old free agent left guard from Atlanta, doesn't possess spectacular athleticism, strength or skills. 

    He's known for have no weaknesses in his game instead of elite strengths. Anything would help the Panthers, whose offensive line tied for the second-most sacks in 2010.

    They must address the offensive line if they want to preserve the health and career of their prized rookie QB. Protection is arguably the most important thing to have in place when rolling the dice on a rookie starter at QB, and the Panthers need to spend money and put in the effort to improve the offensive line.

    Blalock would be a solid start to that end.  

Santonio Holmes, WR

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 23:  Santonio Holmes #10 of the New York Jets celebrates after he scored a third quarter touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvani
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Not likely that Santonio Holmes will escape all the Super Bowl contenders who'd love to have him and into the arms of Carolina, but that doesn't mean the Panthers shouldn't try.

    The Panthers currently line up David Gettis, who had a respectable season, opposite the disgruntled Steve Smith. Maybe having a No. 2 worth his weight in pigskin to take attention away from Smith would make the longtime Panthers star a little more gruntled.

    The team is going in a completely different direction at QB with Newton, so they need to give the rookie QB as much professional talent as possible to make the transition easier.

    Holmes is one of the best possession receivers in the NFL and has a nose for big play catches. At 27, he's got a lot left in the tank, and the moderately high cost would be worth it to secure someone to take pressure off Newton and Smith. 

    With Smith and Holmes, the Panthers would all of a sudden have one of the top WR tandems in the NFL.

Charles Johnson, DE

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 19, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Defensive end Charles Johnson is one of the Panthers' own that they can't afford to lose in free agency. 

    The 24-year-old broke out last year with 11.5 sacks, and was the main reason that the front line of defense wasn't even worse.

    If they lose Johnson, they'll have to allocate resources and money to replacing him at DE. Exerting a lot of time and money to break even at one position is not conducive for a rebuilding team's progress.

    There are a lot of problem spots on the depth chart to be sure, but avoiding a new one by re-signing Johnson should be a top priority this offseason. 

Michael Bush, RB

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 02:  Running back Michael Bush #29 of the Oakland Raiders runs down field in a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images)
    Tim Umphrey/Getty Images

    The Panthers seem content in letting DeAngelo Williams, their horse for the last few years, walk in free agency. His injury-prone frame and 27 years of age have made him expendable to the Panthers in spite of a couple very productive seasons.

    With Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, the Panthers would appear to be set at running back, but you can never have enough reliable horses in your running back stable. The position is so volatile and the next injury is right around the corner, so having three good backs is almost a necessity.

    Michael Bush has never had the chance to prove himself as a feature back because he came in with Raider teammate Darren McFadden around the same time. Both were highly regarded but didn't emerge until McFadden exploded in 2010, grabbing starter's carries for good in Oakland.

    Bush, at 27, is hungry to prove that he can carry a team's load as a No. 1 back. The Panthers have Stewart and Goodson, but I'd hardly call either of them a No. 1 based on their track records. The Panthers could sign Bush for cheap, then let his hunger drive him through competition for starter's carries. 

    It's a low-profile signing to be sure, but it could make a big difference to a team that badly needs depth.

Matt Light, RT

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    HONOLULU - JANUARY 30:  Matt Light #72 of the New England Patriots stands on the field during the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on January 30, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
    Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

    Matt Light's best days are behind him, there's no debate about that. The 33-year-old had several good years protecting Tom Brady in New England, but might not be brought back by the Pats next year.

    An aging, yet dependable tackle is exactly what the Carolina Panthers need. By moving Light from left to right tackle, the Panthers eliminate another huge weakness from last year's line, Garry Williams, an undrafted 24-year-old.

    Light would probably come at a discounted rate because he won't be coveted as highly by many teams because of his age. This is a cheap and low-commitment situation because Light wouldn't be signed for more than two to three years that markedly improves the team. 

Sidney Rice, WR

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    MINNEAPOLIS - JANUARY 17:  Wide receiver Sidney Rice #18 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on January 17, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minn
    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    He's only had one good year, 2009's 83 catches for 1,312 yards, but Sidney Rice is considered by most as among the NFL's best 25-and-under receivers.

    Even if the Panthers got Santonio Holmes from a few slides back, they'd still need to get better at WR. It's hard to conduct a successful passing game in the NFL with only two quality receivers.

    With Steve Smith and Holmes, Rice would be the third receiver. This would be part grooming for a bigger role, part proving ground for him. Steve Smith is really unhappy in Carolina, according to ESPN's Pat Yasinskas, and might be on his way out soon. The Rice signing would be good insurance for the Panthers in case Smith leaves.

    Because of his one year of good work, it would be prudent of Carolina to give him a nice, but not lavish, contract and then actually make him earn it instead of assuming he'll earn it.

    With this trio, then the duo of Holmes and Rice should Smith leave, the Panthers would be setting Cam Newton up to succeed.  

Brandon Mebane, DT

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    SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 08:  Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane #92 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the 2011 NFC wild-card playoff game at Qwest Field on January 8, 2011 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Carolina Panthers gave up the eighth-most points in 2010 at 25.5 points per contest. They also ranked in the bottom 10 in rushing defense and gave up the second most rushing TDs.

    When teams wanted to dominate the Panthers or pile on, they ran on them. The team could use a young interior tackle who excels against the run, like 27-year-old Brandon Mebane.

    Last season in Seattle, he showed great improvement against the pass, which means he doesn't come out of the game in passing situations. The Panthers incumbent tackles, Nick Hayden and Derek Landri, are largely ineffective at moving the line of scrimmage back and stuffing runners. 

    Mebane's expertise is jamming up the run, which would aid greatly in keeping Carolina's defense off the field and from getting scored on so easily.