Fixing the Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have already undergone huge changes this offseason. They fired long-time Head Coach Ron Rivera during the season, star Linebacker Luke Kuechly retired at just 28 years old, and the team announced that they would be parting ways with veteran Tight End Greg Olsen. We still have no word on the quarterback situation, mainly whether or not Cam Newton will be returning.

The Panthers hired Baylor’s Head Coach Matt Rhule to take over their organization as head coach. He quickly hired LSU’s Passing Game Coordinator Joe Brady as offensive coordinator. Brady was largely credited with turning around LSU’s passing offense and the emergence of QB Joe Burrow as a Heisman winner and potential number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Rhule also hired his long-time college Defensive Coordinator Phil Snow as the Panthers’ new defensive coordinator. Snow helped turn around Temple’s and Baylor’s defense while Rhule turned around the rest of those programs.

Rhule has a history of turning losing football programs into winning ones on the college level, but now he’s tasked with turning around a professional football team. The draft is the most crucial part of building an NFL team, but free agency happens first on the calendar.

Cap space: $32.2 million

Cut:

If the Panthers make the following cuts, they will free up about $16 million in cap space, bringing the total up to roughly $48 million.

Dontari Poe, DL, $10 million

Poe’s production has not lived up to that price tag. The Panthers simply have to free up cap space and $10 million dollars is huge.

Jarius Wright, WR, $3 million

This isn’t a lot of money, but Wright didn’t really do anything this season. Another $3 million means a lot.

Mike Davis, RB, $3 million

Davis was signed after the Bears cut him during the season and didn’t do anything for the Panthers.

Resign:

Mario Addison, EDGE

Addison is an aging edge rusher who still provides great production. The Panthers should be able to bring him back at a good price.

Bruce Irvin, EDGE

Irvin is another veteran pass rusher and he adds speed to the Panthers pass rush. He can also be signed at a good price.

– Ross Cockrell, CB

The Panthets have a problem at cornerback, but Cockrell played well this year. They can at least sign him to a one year deal and draft a cornerback high.

Tre Boston, S

Boston was one of the best players on the Panthers’ defense this season. He might be a little pricey, but it’s worth it to bring him back.

Chris Hogan, WR

Hogan is a quality backup receiver for really cheap. He also provides special teams versatility.

James Bradberry, CB

Bradberry is possibly the best defender left on this defense so resigning him is the top priority. He won’t demand top cornerback money, so the Panthers won’t pay too much.

Free Agency:

If the Panthers make the moves listed above, they will have roughly $25 in cap space. That still leaves them enough money to land a big free agent while still addressing needs across the board with smaller free agents.

Tier One:

This tier is the top free agents this offseason. The Panthers can land one of them and then have the space to get a few others in the following tiers.

Chris Harris, CB
Byron Jones, CB
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE
Chris Jones, DL
Yannick Ngakoue, DL

Tier Two:

This tier is full of players who won’t quite command top dollar, but the Panthers should make sure they give them enough to lure them to Carolina.

Kyle Van Noy, LB
Brandon Scherff, OL
– Shaquille Barrett, EDGE
Arik Armstead, DL
Jack Conklin, OT
– Bud Dupree, EDGE
Trae Waynes, CB
Jamie Collins, EDGE
Austin Hooper, TE
– Andrus Peat, OG
– Bruce Irvin, LB
Vic Beasley, EDGE
– Bryan Bulaga, OT
Hunter Henry, TE
Joe Schobert, LB
– Bud Dupree, EDGE

Tier Three:

This group is made up of players that will be closer towards the middle of the league in terms of contract. Whether they’re higher in age, a career backup, or a player coming off their rookie contract that didn’t live up to pre-draft expectations.

Jimmy Smith, CB
Danny Trevathan, LB
Anthony Harris, S
Eli Apple, CB
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S
– Anthony Costanzo, OT
Logan Ryan, CB
Leonard Williams, DL
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Justin Simmons, S
Jason Verrett, CB
Ezekiel Ansah, EDGE
– Bryan Bulaga, OT
Kendall Fuller, CB
Andrew Sendejo, S
Robby Anderson, WR
Bradley Roby, CB
– Matt Judon, EDGE
Darron Lee, LB
Vonn Bell, S
Mackensie Alexander, CB
Eric Ebron, TE
Daryl Williams, OT
– Logan Ryan, CB
Jimmie Ward, S
– Nick Kwiatkowski, LB
Jack Doyle, TE
Kamalei Correa, LB

Draft:

Round One (pick 7):

Nothing is guaranteed at 7 overall and beyond, so from now on I will be listing multiple prospects to target in the first round. Then, I will give an explanation for both prospects.

Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn

Both of these prospects are top-5 players on my board and I have mocked Brown to the Panthers in last mock drafts. However, the surprising retirement of LB Luke Kuechly leaves a massive hole at the linebacker position. Simmons can also be used all over the field, as he showed at Clemson. He is a tweener of linebacker and safety, but he can also line up at slot corner and off the edge as a pass rusher.

Brown is a dominant force on the middle of the defensive line. He is strong, but quick and can dominate offensive lineman when getting after the run or pass rush. The Panthers are missing someone like him right in the middle, as they were the worst run defense in the NFL in 2019.

Round Two (pick 38):

The Panthers main problems are on defense, so they should stay on that side of the ball in the second round. First, the prospects that they should target depending on which prospect they get in the first round.

Evan Weaver, LB, Cal
Troy Dye, LB, Oregon
Ross Blacklock, DL, TCU
Neville Gallimore, DL, Oklahoma

They can also look at cornerback, safety, and edge rusher.

Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU
Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
Ashtyn Davis, S, Cal
Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota
Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama

Round Three (pick 69):

In my most recent mock draft, I mocked Georgia QB Jake Fromm to the Panthers with this pick. If a quarterback like that falls to the Panthers this late, or even if Utah State QB Jordan Love falls to them in the second round, they should pull that trigger. The quarterback landscape in Carolina is very murky, but if I were leading this team (which is the point of this article), I would keep Cam Newton and look for one of these quarterbacks falling down the draft board. Looking at prospects at the positions previously mentioned:

Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State
Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State
Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M
Troy Pride Jr., CB, Notre Dame
Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
Brandon Jones, S, Texas
– K’Von Wallace, S, Clemson
Kenny Willekes, EDGE, Michigan State
Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame

The Panthers can also look at offensive linemen and tight ends in the third round.

Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
– Prince Tega-Wonogho, OT, Auburn
Damien Lewis, OL, LSU
– Daryl Williams, OL, Mississippi State
Hunter Bryant, TE, Washington
– Adam Trautman, TE, Dayton

Rounds 4-5 (picks 103, 134):

In the mid rounds of 4 and 5, the Panthers can look at running backs and wide receivers. They need a running back behind Christian McCaffrey to give him a rest and also to put in the game when McCaffrey lines up at receiver. They have two great and young receivers in D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, but they lack depth behind them. I’ll be listing one prospect to look at per round.

Positions previously mentioned:

Shaquille Quarterman, LB, Miami
Jordyn Brooks, LB, Texas Tech
– Justin Madubuike, DL, Texas A&M
Jordan Elliott, DL, Missouri
Shyheim Carter, CB, Alabama
Lavert Hill, CB, Michigan
– Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland
Josh Uche, EDGE, Michigan
Chris Orr, EDGE, Wisconsin
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
Terence Steele, OT, Texas Tech
Jonah Jackson, OL, Ohio State
– Simon Stepaniak, OL, Indiana
Colby Parkinson, TE, Stanford
Harrison Bryant, TE, FAU

Running backs and wide receivers:

Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor
Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee

Rounds 6-7 (picks 164, 198):

The late rounds are for taking shots on prospects with low floors and high ceilings, small-school prospects, and prospects with big question marks. I’ll list one prospect at every position that the Panthers can target late.

– Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa
Tony Jones Jr., RB, Notre Dame
John Hightower, WR, Boise State
Jared Rice, TE, Fresno State
Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU
– John Runyan, OL, Michigan
Carter Coughlin, EDGE, Minnesota
Broderick Washington Jr., Texas Tech
David Woodward, LB, Utah State
Kindle Vildor, CB, Georgia Southern
Essang Bassey, S, Wake Forest

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