The best Panthers news from last night came a few hours before the game.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported prior to kickoff that Panthers center Ryan Kalil had agreed to a long-term contract with the team after receiving the franchise tag before the lockout. The six-year, $49 million deal with $28 million guaranteed makes Kalil the highest-paid center in the NFL.
It was really a matter of "when" as opposed to "if" a deal would get done this season.
Besides locking up another core player on the O-line, the deal also frees up more cap space for the Panthers (likely several million dollars).
With two preseason games in the books, it's clear bringing in another veteran player wouldn't hurt.
The question is: what are the Panthers' weakest positions?
Before you finished reading the last line, I'm sure you correctly guessed wide receiver and cornerback. Both have been addressed through free agency and the draft, but none of the acquisitions are players that you want to see starting in Arizona for the season opener.
So who are the remaining free agency options? The pickings are slim at wide receiver and even slimmer at cornerback.
At receiver, you can already eliminate Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. While both would certainly pair well with Steve Smith, they're too unpredictable and outspoken; neither Ron Rivera or Jerry Richardson would want to take such a risk before the regular season.
But what about T.J. Houshmandzadeh? The 10-year wideout had six straight seasons of over 900 yards receiving (2004-2009) and has hauled in 43 career touchdown catches. He has plenty of experience, but after a less-than-stellar 2010 season with Baltimore, it's clear that the 33-year old's best years are behind him.
The best alternative outside of Houshmandzadeh is another former Raven in Mark Clayton. Clayton had two solid seasons in 2006 and 2008 before being traded to St. Louis less than a week before the 2010 season.
But as the Rams' No. 1 target he made an immediate impact, catching 10 passes for 119 yards in the season opener.
He went down for the season with a knee injury five games into the season, but racked up a respectable 23 receptions, 306 yards, and two touchdowns. There is a clear injury risk, but when Clayton is healthy, he performs.
There aren't any free-agent cornerbacks better than what Carolina already has, so a starting-caliber player will have to come via trade.
Asante Samuel's name has been linked with the Panthers since the Eagles made big their free agency splash, but is Carolina willing to give up another pick after using a third-rounder to get Greg Olsen from Chicago? My guess is no.
So while there are still a few good names out there, expecting any of them to make a big impact may be a stretch. But the best thing about Rivera is that he's always evaluating possible moves and will pull the trigger should the opportunity arise.
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