Three of the draft’s top six picks have agreed to their rookie deals. The Panthers announced Tuesday night they came to terms with Ikem Ekwonu, the No. 6 overall choice. This signing follows the Lions and Jets getting their top picks (Aidan Hutchinson and Sauce Gardner) under contract.
The slot deal is worth $27.6MM, fully guaranteed, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). The Panthers will enjoy at least three years of their new left tackle being attached to a rookie contract — one that can run through 2026, via the fifth-year option.
Ekwonu panning out would fill one of the NFL’s longest-standing needs. The Panthers have started a different primary left tackle in each of the past nine seasons, seeing the position fall into disarray after Jordan Gross‘ 2014 retirement. Although Carolina made this setup work at points during this run, venturing to playoff brackets and Super Bowl 50, it has been one of the NFL’s least steady positions.
The Giants taking Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 5 meant the Panthers would have their pick of the draft’s top tackles, and they went with the North Carolina State blocker. Ekwonu has experience at tackle and guard. He earned second-team All-ACC acclaim as a sophomore and first-team all-conference accolades last season. The in-state prospect, who is also a Charlotte native, is the top new addition to a Carolina line that is set to feature new starters in Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett. Ekwonu will attempt to carve out a long-term role opposite longtime right tackle starter Taylor Moton.