Offseason In Review: Carolina Panthers

Notable signings:

Notable losses:

Extensions and restructures:


  • Acquired a fifth-round pick (No. 148) from the Falcons in exchange for a fifth-round pick (No. 168) and a seventh-round pick (No. 225).

Draft picks:

  • Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (1.28): Signed
  • Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri (2.60): Signed
  • Trai Turner, G, LSU (3.92): Signed
  • Tre Boston, S, North Carolina (4.128): Signed
  • Bene’ Benwikere, CB, San Jose State (5.148): Signed
  • Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford (6.204): Signed, then waived


Without a question, more attention was paid to what the Panthers lost this offseason than the additions that they made. That’ll happen when you part ways with your all-time leading receiver and face of the franchise.

There were rumblings in March that the Panthers would look to get out from under Steve Smith‘s contract either via trade or release. On March 13th, after they were unable to find a suitable deal, they dropped Smith and designated him as a post-June 1st cut, which will stretch some of the dead money out to 2015. While fans were upset to see Smith, who amassed 836 receptions for 12,197 yards and 67 touchdowns receiving during his time in Carolina, get the ax, it was a move that made sense considering that the 35-year-old is no longer a No. 1 receiver. Longtime teammate Brandon LaFell will also be plying his craft elsewhere and Ted Ginn Jr. wasn’t retained even though he became a bigger part of the passing game in 2013.

Carolina’s all-new receiving corps has potential but inarguably has less star power without Smith. Jerricho Cotchery, who was once viewed as a top option with the Jets, came to Carolina after spending the last three seasons with the Steelers. The 31-year-old is coming off of his best season in years as he recorded 46 receptions and 602 receiving yards with a career-high 10 touchdowns. It’s a five-year, $8.0155MM deal, but it has just $2.25MM guaranteed and the final three years of the pact are voidable. Cotchery alone won’t replace the production of Smith but he comes at a considerably lower cost and little risk.

Joining Cotchery in the new receiver stable will be former Rutgers speedster Tiquan Underwood and ex-Eagles mainstay Jason Avant. The most important WR addition, however, came in the draft when the Panthers tabbed Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall pick. Benjamin doesn’t have a long history of dominance, but the Florida State product has looked sharp so far in training camp and boasts tremendous size. He could very well be the Panthers’ No. 1 passing option when all is said and done this season.

The Panthers lost another longtime mainstay in offensive tackle Jordan Gross. The 33-year-old spent his entire 11-year career with the Panthers and consistently graded out as one of the league’s best tackles. One might have expected Carolina to replace Gross with a similarly experienced and talented tackle, but they didn’t quite do that. Right tackle Byron Bell, who was retained with a restricted free agent tender, or the newly-extended Nate Chandler will be expected to step up and fill his shoes, but it would be surprising if they could protect Cam Newton‘s blindside better than Gross did. Longtime Panthers lineman Travelle Wharton also decided to hang ’em up this offseason.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers used the franchise tag on defensive end Greg Hardy and did not reach a long-term deal with him prior to the March 11th deadline. The 25-year-old has racked up 26 total sacks in the last two seasons, and ranked as the third-best and sixth-best 4-3 defensive end in those two years, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription required). Still, given his off-the-field troubles, the Panthers are surely having second thoughts about making a long-term commitment to him. Speaking of the defensive end position, the Panthers used their second round choice on Missouri DE Kony Ealy. Ealy might be a couple of years away from producing, but it’s believed that he has tremendous upside. To fulfill his potential, he’ll have to start eating and lifting a whole lot more than he has been.

Mike Mitchell left Carolina to team up with Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh and the Panthers used this as an opportunity to make changes at both safety spots. Longtime Saints notable Roman Harper will man the strong safety position while Thomas DeCoud is slotted in as either the No. 1 or No. 2 free safety. The 31-year-old Harper only started five games for the Saints in 2013 and became the odd man out when the team signed Jairus Byrd to pair with Kenny Vaccaro at safety, but he’s out to prove he has plenty of quality football left. DeCoud’s role, whether it will be as a starter or as a swing defensive back, will depend on what Carolina does with Charles Godfrey. Godfrey is coming off of Achilles surgery and could either start at FS or move around in the secondary in a reserve role. While DeCoud started for the Falcons for the last five years and is a former Pro Bowler, he had by far the worst season of his career in 2013. The 29-year-old racked up just 44 tackles and failed to intercept a pass for the first time since becoming a starter. 

While the Panthers will have to think things over when it comes to Hardy and his future in Carolina, they’ll also have to give some thought to what kind of offer they’ll want to make to star quarterback Cam Newton. The price for quarterbacks has soared this offseason thanks to lucrative deals for the likes of Jay Cutler and Alex Smith. This week, however, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton appears to have set the watermark for the “middle class” quarterback with his six-year, $96MM extension. While many would argue that Newton is a greater talent than Dalton, the deal didn’t continue the trend of truly mammoth contracts and doesn’t help Cam’s case. For now, the Panthers exercised Newton’s $14.666MM option for the 2015 season so they’ll have time to work something out before he can hit the open market.

The Panthers’ offseason wasn’t pretty thanks to a less-than-desirable cap situation and one has to wonder if their new receiving corps and the offensive line sans Jordan Gross can put them where they want to be in 2014.

Spotrac and Over The Cap were used in the creation of this post.

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2 comments on “Offseason In Review: Carolina Panthers

  1. Zack Sheffield

    I’m still coming to terms with the lack of Steve Smith, and am afraid I don’t have high hopes for the Panthers this year. But I guess we’ll see soon enough…

    Also, for the editors: second to last paragraph looks like placeholders for Dalton’s deal weren’t filled with the details.

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