The Panthers have managed to make the playoffs for two straight seasons, an impressive feat considering general manager Dave Gettleman had little room to work with under the cap.
Finally armed with some financial flexibility, the Panthers had a surprisingly quiet offseason. Some could be disappointed that the team failed to bring in any game-changing additions, but the organization seemed to be more focused on locking up their own guys long term.
- Michael Oher, T: Two years, $7MM. $2.35MM guaranteed.
- Ed Dickson, TE: Three years, $6.8MM guaranteed. $2MM guaranteed.
- Ted Ginn Jr., WR: Two years, $4.2MM. $1.7MM guaranteed.
- Dwan Edwards, DT: Two years, $4MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Kurt Coleman, S: Two years, $2.8MM. $600K guaranteed.
- Charles Tillman, CB: One year, $1.75MM. $350K guaranteed.
- Teddy Williams, CB: Two years, $1.8MM. $220K guaranteed.
- Colin Cole, DT: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Jason Trusnik, LB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Joe Webb, QB/WR: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
Jordan Todman, RB: One year, minimum salary benefit. $20K guaranteed.
- Chris Houston, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Marcus Ball, S: One year, minimum salary.
- Jarrett Boykin, WR: One year, minimum salary.
Gettleman had previously indicated that Carolina’s cap room could result in the team pursuing bigger-name free agents.
“Last year we were shopping in the dollar store,” the general manager said in January (via Chris Burke of SI.com). “This year we may be able to move up in class a little bit.”
He quickly stepped back from his comments, perhaps trying to temper fans’ expectations.
“I said we’re going to move up in class,” he added. “I didn’t say we’re going to go out and spend big money on a player.”
This latter statement ended up being a clue into the Panthers’ offseason strategy. The Panthers ended up adding some notable players, but none of their free agent additions made Luke Adams’ list of the top 50 free agents. Instead of plugging their holes with pricey, popular players, the Panthers decided to pursue guys on short-term, less-lucrative contracts.
The team’s “biggest” offseason signing was offensive lineman Michael Oher, who had been released by the Titans in February. The former first-round pick struggled during his only season in Tennessee, and injuries limited the 29-year-old to a career-low 11 games.
The poor performance resulted in Oher being ranked 75th among 84 offensive tackles last season (via Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics). However, Byron Bell, the player he’ll likely be replacing, ranked 83rd on that same list. Still, such a slight upgrade won’t do much to improve one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
The Panthers did give Cam Newton some new toys to play with on offense, bringing in Ed Dickson, Ted Ginn Jr. and Jarrett Boykin. The trio wasn’t particularly flashy in 2014 (Kelvin Benjamin finished with 680 more yards than the three players combined), but each player has a 600-plus yard season on their resume. Ginn in particular had seemed to develop some rapport with Newton during his previous stint with the Panthers.
Elsewhere on offense, the team brought in quarterback Joe Webb to compete with Derek Anderson for the backup gig. Jordan Todman proved to be a bit of a receiving threat out of the backfield for the Jaguars, but Jonathan Stewart still figures to be the primary target among the running backs.
Defensively, the organization ultimately signed five defensive backs to their squad. It remains to be seen whether any of these players will be anything more than backups, but the signings at least provide the unit with some depth.
The most intriguing signing of the bunch is veteran Charles Tillman. The 34-year-old’s 12-year tenure with the Bears came to and following an injury-marred last two seasons. The two-time Pro Bowler was considered a top cornerback as recently as 2012, so if he can somehow stay healthy, the Panthers may have found a bargain.
Kurt Coleman could be another sneaky grab for the franchise. The 27-year-old has settled into more of a backup role in recent years, but he’s still managed to bring above-average production. He gave the Chiefs 37 tackles, a forced fumble, and three interceptions in 2014, and he was ranked 26th among 87 cornerback candidates on PFF.
The pair of defensive tackle re-signees, Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole, weren’t rated favorably by PFF, and neither of the two played more than 600 snaps last season. The duo should still be able to provide solid depth behind Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei.
- Byron Bell, T
- Chase Blackburn, LB
- Thomas DeCoud, S: Released
- James Dockery, CB
- Greg Hardy, DE
- Fernando Velasco, OL
- DeAngelo Williams, RB: Released
- Garry Williams, G
The Panthers played the majority of last season without their best defensive player, forcing the team to adjust and compensate for his absence. Therefore, Hardy’s departure this offseason shouldn’t have as big of an impact as someone like, for instance, Ndamukong Suh.
While the organization is likely relieved to have rid themselves of Hardy and his baggage, there’s no denying the impact he could have had on the team’s defense in 2015. After all, the 27-year-old was one of the best players in the league as recently as 2013.
Charles Johnson had a standout season, and the trio of Kony Ealy, Wes Horton and Mario Addison all filled in admirably for the Pro Bowler. Hardy’s departure seemed inevitable, and the organization essentially had an entire season to prepare for this moment. Still, it doesn’t make Hardy’s exit any easier.
Perhaps the Panthers’ toughest offseason move was releasing veteran running back DeAngelo Williams. The franchise leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns was officially released in March, with the transaction ultimately saved the team about $2MM against the cap. The 2014 season wasn’t a particularly productive campaign for Williams, as the 32-year-old set or tied career-lows in games played (six), attempts (62), rushing yards (219) and touchdowns (zero).
Replacing Williams in the lineup shouldn’t be difficult. However, like last season’s departure of Steve Smith, the team may miss the veteran’s presence in the locker room.
The Panthers reinforcement on the offensive line could be connected to the departures of Byron Bell and Fernando Velasco. Bell had been a Panthers mainstay for the previous four seasons, starting 56 of his 62 games played. Despite his starting role, the former undrafted free agent had never performed above league average, according to PFF. The advanced metrics consistently ranked Bell among the worst tackles in the league, culminating in him earning the distinction of receiving PFF’s second-lowest score among tackles in 2014. Velasco performed mostly in a backup role during his lone season with the Panthers, but he still received a better rating than four of his lineman teammates.
DeCoud’s tenure in Charlotte lasted only one season. The 30-year-old started 11 of his 15 games for the Panthers, compiling 49 tackles, three passes defended and one interception. The veteran’s role diminished as the season progressed, making him expendable this offseason.
- Acquired a 2015 second-round pick (No. 41; WR Devin Funchess) from the Rams in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 57; T Rob Havenstein), a 2015 third-round pick (No. 89; QB Sean Mannion), and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 201; WR Bud Sasser).
- Acquired a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 102; T Daryl Williams) from the Raiders in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 124), a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 161; OLBNeiron Ball), and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 242; CB Dexter McDonald).
The Panthers made a pair of moves to move up during this past year’s draft. They moved up 16 spots in the second round to select Michigan wideout Devin Funchess, giving up three 2015 picks in the process. The former tight end finished with 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns last season. The hope is that the 6-5, 230-pound rookie will be long-term compliment to Benjamin.
The Panthers sacrificed another three 2015 picks to move up 22 spots in the fourth round, selecting offensive tackle Daryl Williams. The addition of Oher and the precense of Mike Remmers may limit the Oklahoma product to more of a backup role for at least this season.
Extensions and restructures:
- Cam Newton, QB: Extended through 2020. Five years, $103.8MM. $41MM guaranteed.
- Greg Olsen, TE: Extended through 2018. Three years, $22.5MM. $12.9MM guaranteed.
- Thomas Davis, LB: Extended through 2017. Three years, $18MM. $10.25MM guaranteed. Per-game roster bonuses of $500K in 2016 and $750K in 2017. Contract automatically voids following the 2018 Super Bowl.
The Panthers locked up three key players during the offseason, including handing out a lucrative five-year extension to Newton. The signing was clearly an indication by the franchise that the former first overall pick was their guy going forward, and the organization seemingly set the market for young, franchise signal-callers. The 26-year-old finished with the lowest quarterback rating of his career in 2015, but Pro Football Focus still ranked him as the eighth-best quarterback last season.
Olsen has been one of Newton’s most consistent targets since he joined the Panthers in 2011. The 30-year-old set career-highs this past season in catches (84) and yards (1,008), and he recorded his seventh-straight season with at least five touchdowns. Along with Benjamin, the Panthers now have three key members of their offense signed for at least three more seasons.
Davis struggled through injuries from 2009 through 2011, but the veteran has established himself as one of the top linebackers in the league since then. The 32-year-old ranked fifth among 40 linebacker candidates (via PFF), and he was rated behind Luke Kuechly as the second-most valuable defender on the Panthers.
- 1-25: Shaq Thompson, LB (Washington): Signed
- 2-41: Devin Funchess, WR (Michigan): Signed
- 4-102: Daryl Williams, T (Oklahoma): Signed
- 5-169: David Mayo, ILB (Texas State): Signed
- 5-174: Cameron Artis-Payne, RB (Auburn): Signed
There’s no denying Shaq Thompson’s talent, but some evaluators have questioned whether the Washington product truly has the size to play linebacker. Furthermore, the team’s two best defensive players (Davis and Kuechly) play the same position, and there were clearly other areas of need.
As mentioned previously, the Panthers gave up four extra draft picks to move up in both the second and fourth round. While the additional depth may have been good for the franchise, you can’t criticize a front office for going after the players they want.
David Mayo and Cameron Artis-Payne weren’t “reaches” by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve got to wonder whether Gettleman would have been better off drafting for need.
- Exercised 2016 fifth-year option for LB Luke Kuechly ($11.058MM).
- Claimed T Jonathan Martin off waivers from the 49ers. Martin later retired.
- Signed nine players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 10 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
Picking up Kuechly’s option was perhaps the most predictable move of the Panthers offseason, as Gettelman had previously said he’d “have to be brain-dead” to not exercise the contract.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Charles Johnson, DE: $20,020,000
- Cam Newton, QB: $13,000,000
- Ryan Kalil, C: $11,795,000
- Jonathan Stewart, RB: $8,300,000
- Greg Olsen, TE: $6,300,000
- Thomas Davis, LB: $5,900,000
- DeAngelo Williams, RB: $4,333,333 (dead money)
- Luke Kuechly, LB: $4,002,283
- Steve Smith, WR: $4,000,000 (dead money)
- Mike Tolbert, RB: $3,425,000
The Panthers’ roster has seen plenty of turnover since last season, and the roster certainly improved, if only slightly. Assuming the team’s young players continue to improve (and assuming that Newton doesn’t get passive following a new contract), this team should be in contention for a playoff spot once again.