It’s that time of the year again when NFL GM’s and coaches start to look at their team rosters for the next season. They will look at who their free agents are going to be and debate on potential re-signings and determine who it is that they would like to have back for the future. For me, I get to take off my “fan hat” and put on my “GM…suit (?)” and give my two cents to all these big shots making big bucks and let them know what I would do if I were in their big, leather desk chair. Maybe it’s in hopes of landing a gig like Detroit Lions General Manager, Brad Holmes, who used to work for Enterprise Rent-A-Car before breaking his way into professional sports with the Atlanta Hawks. Yeah, there’s no “maybe” about it. Of course, it is! So, we’re going to start with the team who finished with the worst record in the league and work our way up to the top. If you’re a Carolina Panther’s fan…I’m sorry…but you also get to be considered first! Here we go!
The Panther have about twenty players that are free agents this year. Ironically, on offense, where they finished last in total yards, last in passing yards, and last in points…they have the fewest potential free agents. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind letting go of a few more underachievers without a salary cap hit though. Wide Receiver, D.J. Chark Jr is probably the biggest free agent name for Carolina. While Chark finished the season 84th in receiving yards and tied for 35th in receiving TDs, his numbers were pretty average-to-below-average for a WR2. Yes, he was injured, but he’s been injured A LOT, and he hasn’t cracked 700 receiving yards since the 2020 season. However, keeping in mind that WR1 Adam Thielen is going to start the 2024 season at 34-years-old, Chark is a “must keep”. Wide receiver, Laviska Shenault Jr on the other hand, can be let go, UNLESS you can re-sign him for a cheap deal, since he was placed on the IR last year. The offensive line has three notable FA’s in starting Right Guard, Gabe Jackson, Left Tackle, David Sharpe and Left Guard, Ilm Manning. Jackson is going to be 33-years-old next year, and the other two are expendable considering how bad this unit was as a whole. QB, Bryce Young took the leagues second-most sacks (62), behind Washington’s Sam Howell (65 sacks)…who coincidentally finished with the second worst record in the NFL. Carolina: look elsewhere in free agency or draft some better O-Line if you want your “franchise QB” to stick around longer than Andrew Luck did in Indy.
On the defensive side of the ball, it gets much more difficult for the Panthers. Darn near everyone is either a FA and/or ended up on the IR last year. The Panthers surprisingly had the fourth best defense in yards allowed and third best in passing yards allowed. This might be because everyone was running the ball over them, where they ranked 23rd in rushing yards allowed and 29th in points allowed. There’s no need to pass the ball when you have the lead practically the whole game, right? The Panthers were also dead-last in takeaways and in sacks. Meaning they need to get some pressure up front. Guys that are no-brainers to re-sign are Linebackers Brian Burns, Frankie Luvu, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Shaq Thompson (who you should be able to sign for a great deal since he broke his lower leg). It wouldn’t be a bad idea to re-sign LB, Deion Jones OR Kamu Grugier-Hill either just in case Shaq is slow coming back, but there’s no need to re-sign both of them. If I was leaning one way, it would be in favor of Deion Jones. I feel like they’re at the same level, and they’re just about the same age, so whoever you can get for cheaper would be my “go to”.
In the defensive backfield, Carolina should have all their starters coming back, which isn’t saying much since they finished 30th in interceptions. Safety, Xavier Woods was the only DB with more than one INT. However, I would re-sign Cornerback, Shaquill Griffin over CJ Henderson merely because Henderson will probably cost three times as much as Shaq in free agency. If you can re-sign Jeremy Chinn, it makes Henderson expendable as well. Which means you can let CB, Troy Hill and Safety Sam Franklin Jr walk. Along with them, you can find a better Defensive End than DeShawn Williams to bookend with Derrick Brown. Also, say goodbye to Chris Wormley, Hendry Anderson, and Marquis Haynes Sr for some fresh legs who might actually put some pressure on the opposing QB.
Special Teams and More
As for Special Teams, that easy; if Long Snapper, JJ Jansen wants to come back and play (he is 38 years-old) for another season, then I would re-sign him. I know I’ve talked a lot about money and age, but keep in mind that this is a business first. The Panthers don’t have a first round draft pick in this year’s draft, and they finished with the worst record in the NFL in 2023. That means they are going to have to go out and BUY solid, veteran players, which means they need to be frugal where they can in re-signing their own guys first. Rebuilding this team for the long haul is not going to be easy. A LOT is riding on their drafting of Bryce Young with the #1 pick last year, which included giving up their first round pick this year and WR, DJ Moore, who had a terrific year in Chicago of all places. They need to start showing results NOW before it looks like trading up for Young was a bust move, and it won’t be easy to recruit great players to a bad team with a brand-new head coach…again. Money is going to have to talk in Carolina, and they should have a decent amount to play with.
Biggest needs for the Panthers: WR, TE (I’ll bet if you’re not a Panthers fan, you can’t name me a single Tight End on this roster), Interior O-Line (specifically at Guard, but a backup for Bozeman wouldn’t be bad either), Defensive End, Corner Back, and Linebacker if they can’t re-sign a handful of current Panthers. Thanks for the “read”!