NFL Free Agency: 10 Players that make the Carolina Panthers a Week 1 Winner
They began by adding defensive end Jason Babin who had 12.5 sacks last season, but then they get corner Dominique Rogers Cromartie (trade) and Nnamdi Asomugha through free agency. They also have Cullen Jenkins as this article was being written.
That was just pure dominance, but the other surprise team looked inward to retain its core players and add veteran leadership to other positions—that team is the Carolina Panthers.
The Panthers had been treated like a second-class citizen by analysts, talk shows and other sports writers. They had one bad season with a coach 95 percent out the door, a team purged of almost all veterans, a rookie receiving corps and a quarterback that clearly was not ready to play.
Many have been speculating where Carolina’s free agents would go, as surely they would not come back to a 2-14 team. Surely Steve Smith would not want to stay with a rookie quarterback at the helm.
All I have to say to those people is, “SURPRISE!”
The Panthers have made themselves known this free agency and that they have no plans of just sitting at the bottom of the mighty NFC South.
With these players, the Panthers are already on their way back to respectability.
10. Olindo Mare
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
This is probably the most surprising signing for the Panthers. Mare was great during the Seattle Seahawks stunner over the New Orleans Saints. The Panthers decided that he was the right man for the job and gave him a four-year, $12 million deal.
Mare will look to handle field goals as well as kickoffs. Unfortunately, this spells the end for the only kicker in Carolina history. The original Panther John Kasay, 41, had been the most consistent thing in Panthers history, but with his age and a shaky 2010 season, it was time to go.
Kasay is a legend, but times like his chip-shot miss on the game winner against Cleveland might have been the beginning of the end. He will be missed like no other, and it is unfortunate that another great Panther will not have the opportunity to retire in Carolina.
As they say, “It’s a business,” but Kasay will always be in the hearts and souls of Panther fans.
9. Thomas Davis
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Shortly after the new season began, the first bit of good news came, as it was determined Thomas Davis was not really a free agent because he spent all of last season on the PUP list.
It was still important for the Panthers to lock him up long term, as they knew Davis’ talent. Two days ago, that goal was achieved, as he agreed to a five-year deal.
Many will consider this a risky deal, as he first tore his ACL and then re-tore it while rehabbing without his brace on. Why he did not have the brace on is still in question.
What many do not know is that Davis has a motor unmatched by any other linebacker, because he is the fastest. Davis ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash done as part of the strength and conditioning tests.
If the guy can run that fast while still rehabbing the knee, just think how fast he is when healthy. He excelled in his short time under Ron Meeks’ system and is a huge part of Carolina’s future. Davis paired with Jon Beason and James Anderson puts the linebacker corps as the best of any 4-3 system.
8. Sean Considine
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Considine is a very underrated signing.
He is a veteran safety that will be more of use on special teams, but he has another use. Considine spent four years in new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott’s scheme while with the Eagles.
Considine will be able to speed up the learning process for young safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey. With the lockout shortening the offseason, Considine will be even more important in the safeties ability to become familiar with the system.
7. Ron Edwards
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
The Panthers spent their two third-round picks on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. This was good, as it brings in fresh talent at the position. Unfortunately, a veteran was still lacking and was a huge priority for the Panthers.
They quickly took care of the need with the signing of Edwards. He is a 12-year veteran out of Kansas City who does his job and plugs up holes. He is a nose tackle and was actually a priority for the Chiefs until Carolina swiped him.
He will not be asked to dominate the game, but for a guy who has been playing in a 3-4 system, he should have more production in a 4-3. He just needs to free the linebackers, so they can tear up the backfield. He will also be a mentor for the young tackles drafted.
He is a good start, but Carolina still needs a fourth tackle, and with Mebane staying in Seattle, they may have to look for more seasoned players.
6. James Anderson
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
As mentioned earlier, re-signing core players was top priority for the Panthers. On the same day Davis was re-signed, Anderson was signed to a five-year deal worth $22 million.
Anderson earned the third linebacker position, as he had shown promise the year before. He did not just perform, he was a monster. He finished ninth in total tackles with 130 and also had 3.5 sacks. He did better than Patrick Willis.
After that kind of year, he deserved a new contract and became the second of three core linebackers to be locked up.
5. Jon Beason
Geoff Burke/Getty Images
With Davis and Anderson both signed long-term, that just left the Beast. Beason was given a long-term contract, and he will be happy for a long time. Beason earned a five-year $50 million contract.
Last season, Beason was asked to move to the Will linebacker spot to replace Davis. Beason did an average job, but he is a true middle linebacker. The Beast is arguably the best middle linebacker in the league and definitely the best of any 4-3 system.
More importantly, Beason is the heart and soul of the defense. He is intense and seems to be in on every play. It will be scary to see what kind of damage he will do under Ron Rivera and McDermott.
4. Greg Olsen
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The tight end position has been a weakness since Wesley Walls left. The Panthers tried out a trio of fifth- round draft picks, but none panned out for one reason or another.
This offseason, tight end became a priority. Jeremy Shockey was signed just before the lockout. Ben Hardstock was signed to be a blocking end. That would have sufficed, but an opportunity knocked, and Carolina mulled it.
Greg Olsen was never a good fit under Mike Martz in Chicago, and many knew that could happen. Chicago finally decided it was time to part ways, sent the word out, and Carolina showed up with a smile on its face and a gift basket.
The gift was a third-round draft pick that the Panthers decided the Bears should have for trading their Pro Bowl caliber tight end.
Olsen will be welcomed with open arms, as he joins his former teacher Rob Chudzinski. Furthermore, he will join fellow Miami, Fl., product in Shockey to give Carolina a duel threat at the position.
This was an unexpected gift for the Panthers, and the 2011 quarterback will have a big, fluffy safety blanket built into the offense.
3. Charles Johnson
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Johnson was a highly coveted free agent due to his young age and his 11.5 sacks last season. There was speculation he could head to Cleveland or even return home to Atlanta. These were possibilities until someone in Carolina finally shouted, “MINE!”, and Johnson had a six-year, $72 million deal done the first day of negotiations.
The Panthers let Julius Peppers go, but they were not going to let Johnson go. They actually signed Johnson for the same amount as they offered Peppers.
Johnson excels against the run and the pass. He is a big boy at 275-280 pounds, and he is a home-grown product out of Georgia. Johnson solidifies the left side of the defensive line, and the release of Tyler Brayton leaves the door open for Greg Hardy to start on the other end.
Hardy is another big end at 6’4”, 280 pounds, but has surprising speed. With the addition of the three tackles and having two big ends on both sides of the line, Carolina’s days of having a dominant defensive line could be returning.
2. Cameron Newton
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Whenever a team with the No. 1 pick gets their pick signed in time for camp, it is a good thing. Thanks to the rookie wage scale, the Panthers signed a first overall quarterback to a four-year, $22 million contract—all guaranteed.
This is insanely low, especially considering Sam Bradford had $50 million in guaranteed money alone just a year ago. Newton is signed, sealed and delivered, and it will only cost $5.5 million per year for the first four years with the option being considerably more.
Newton has already impressed many teammates during conditioning and unofficial workouts, but now that the pads are on, it is time to see what Newton can do.
1. Steve Smith
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The most important move that Carolina has made towards respectability was not even their move to make. It was Steve Smith’s move.
Smith was rumored to be traded as soon as the lockout was over. Many felt he wanted to go somewhere where he could try for a ring like San Diego or Baltimore. Some writers went even as far as guaranteeing that Smith would be gone because he was unhappy and had sold his home.
Just a couple days after the lockout ended, Smitty put the rumors to rest. He decided to always and forever be a Carolina Panther. He came out and said that he talked it over with his family and decided he wants to retire a Panther.
This is the biggest move, because when the greatest offensive weapon in franchise history wants to stay and play with the most talented quarterback Carolina has ever had, it is a great day.
Smith and Newton have been working out together during the lockout, and Smith even credited part of his decision to stay to Newton. Now, everyone is looking forward to many Newton-to-Smith touchdowns and for Smith to continue to mentor the young receiving corps of the Panthers.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Many will question why Williams was left off the list. He is the all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He is one half of Double Trouble. He is an all-around back.
I respect Williams to the highest degree, but the fact is he fulfilled the lowest need of everyone else signed. It is true that when a guy gets a five-year, $43 million deal they are highly valued. But based on need, he was not high on the list.
The Panthers are better for it in having Williams, but with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, the world would not have ended.
In the end, the Panthers have re-signed everyone but Ryan Kalil, addressed every need except cornerback and has signed the two best available players at their positions. If that were not enough, they traded for a Pro Bowl tight end. A very good start to the 2011 free agency period.