Panthers Likely To Add Pass Rusher?

Earlier this month, we heard that the Panthers were presently disinclined to authorize a notable contract for a free agent pass rusher, and that fourth-year pro Yetur Gross-Matos would have a chance to retain his starting job opposite Brian Burns. We did note that GM Scott Fitterer would continue to monitor the edge defender market, and Joseph Person of The Athletic says he does, in fact, expect Carolina to add a pass rusher before the regular season opener (subscription required).

Person does not hazard a guess as to a specific player that Fitterer might target. Of course, there will always be cuts from other clubs that will quickly find a new home, but a top-flight pass rusher is highly unlikely to hit the market in the summer. And the existing market has thinned in the last several weeks, as Leonard Floyd (Bills) and Frank Clark (Broncos) have come off the board.

That still leaves plenty of worthwhile defenders available, including players like Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, Robert Quinn, and Melvin Ingram. While some of those talents may be too rich for Fitterer’s liking — Ngakoue, for instance, was targeting a contract paying him $8MM-$10MM per year as of May — the Panthers will almost certainly be able to add an experienced edge player for an affordable price at some point in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, Gross-Matos, Marquis Haynes, and third-round rookie D.J. Johnson will continue to make their case for a starter’s role. According to Person, Haynes was particularly impressive during Carolina’s three-day mandatory minicamp last week, frequently getting into the offensive backfield and in the face of rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

Haynes, who has been used in a rotational capacity since the Panthers selected him in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, did see a career-high 41% snap share in 2022, and he produced five sacks (also a career best). Neither he nor Gross-Matos fared well in the eyes of Pro Football Focus’ metrics, but it is at least notable that he doubled Gross-Matos’ sack production and had three more QB hits while playing nearly 400 fewer snaps.

Person says that Haynes, who is entering a platform year and who is due just $1.4MM in 2023, may be better-suited to a stand-up OLB role in DC Ejiro Evero‘s 3-4 scheme than he was to a 4-3 look. He has certainly caught Young’s attention.

“He’s been great,” Young said. “There’s a lot of great competition here, so you see him in the backfield. It’s good on good. It’s elite guys going up against each other. It’s tough when you have to go up against him every day in practice. But on Sundays, it’s great knowing that you have a guy like that out there.”

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