Carolina Panthers Rumors & News

NFC South Teams Take On Int’l Players

The NFL announced that the teams of the NFC South will be carrying an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the upcoming season. This is part of the league’s flagship International Player Pathway program.

Now, the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers will all be operating with an 11-man practice squad while the rest of the league has ten. However, they don’t necessarily have an advantage over other clubs because these additional overseas players cannot be activated during the season.

Here is a look at the players who will be joining each taxi squad:

  • Falcons: Alex Gray, TE – Gray, a former rugby star, is the first English rugby union professional to quit the sport to pursue American football. The 26-year-old was named the England Sevens player of the year in 2015. He not to be confused with the undrafted Appalachian State safety of the same name who joined the Bucs’ 90-man roster.
  • Panthers: Efe Obada, DE – Obada, who grew up in the Netherlands and England, was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2010. Prior to the 2016 season, he also had brief stints with the Chiefs and Falcons.
  • Saints: Alex Jenkins, DE – Jenkins was born and raised in England but actually has a background in American football. Back home, he played for the Bath City Academy and for the Bristol Aztecs before earning a spot on the Great Britain youth team. He played his college ball in San Antonio, Texas at the University of the Incarnate Word. He had 3.5 sacks in his senior year.
  • Buccaneers: Eric Nzeocha, LB – Nzeocha is now the second German-born player to join up with the Bucs in franchise history. German safety Claudius Osei spent the 2005 campaign on Tampa Bay’s taxi squad as part of a similar program. Nzeocha’s brother Mark is a linebacker for the Cowboys.

Panthers Restructure Scouting Staff

  • Now that former assistant general manager Brandon Beane has taken the reins in Buffalo, the Panthers have restructured their scouting staff, as the club announced Monday. Mark Koncz is Carolina’s new director player personnel, Jeff Morrow is the new director of college scouting, and Matt Allen has been named the team’s new director of pro personnel. Meanwhile, Don Gregory, who was reportedly on the Bills’ general manager candidate list, is now a senior executive scout who will work in both the pro and college arenas.

Top 8 Fits For Free Agent TE Gary Barnidge

Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.Gary Barnidge (vertical)

There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…

Atlanta Falcons

Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.

Carolina Panthers

After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.

Cincinnati Bengals

Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.

Denver Broncos

Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Panthers OT Michael Oher

The Panthers were without Michael Oher for the bulk of 2016 after a brain injury kept him off the field. Now, the Panthers aren’t quite sure when they’ll get Oher back in the fold, and it’s not entirely related to his concussion issues. Michael Oher (Vertical)

Oher skipped the first five weeks of the Panthers’ voluntary OTAs and has given no indication that he plans to check in until the team’s mandatory minicamp next month, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer writes. Oher still has yet to be cleared from concussion protocol, but his absence is not solely because of the brain injury, nor is it strictly because of the fallout of his alleged fight with an Uber driver this spring. The tackle is dealing with other personal matters that are sidetracking him from football, Person hears.

A player’s absence from voluntary workouts is not newsworthy in and of itself, but given the multitude of issues Oher is facing, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be ready to go for Carolina at all this season. After the Panthers signed left tackle Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55.5MM deal in March, Carolina isn’t necessarily banking on Oher in 2017. The Panthers are willing to give Oher time to work through his problems, Person hears, but they’re also worried about the extra weight he has gained this offseason.

The Panthers are tied to Oher for three more seasons. In 2017, Oher is slated to carry a cap number of $5.5MM, but the Panthers can lop off $2.5MM from that sum by releasing him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers, Saints Eyeing Marvin Bracy

Both the Panthers and Saints are interested in Olympic sprinter Marvin Bracy as a wide receiver prospect, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link).Marvin Bracy (Vertical)

Bracy, 23, was a 100-meter Olympian at the Rio Games and is a former United States 60-meter dash champion. He spent a year on the Florida State football team as a redshirt before leaving the program to focus on track. As such, Bracy hasn’t played football since 2012, although he was an All-American in high school.

At 5’9″, Bracy doesn’t offer elite size, but he’s considered a “great raw talent” as a wideout, per Cole. Currently dealing with a groin injury, Bracy has already tried out for the Panthers at their rookie minicamp earlier this month.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Claim Toby Johnson From Vikings, Waive Kyle Kragen

  • The Panthers have claimed defensive tackle Toby Johnson off waivers from the Vikings, tweets Howard Balzer of BalzerFootball.com. Carolina has waived linebacker Kyle Kragen in a corresponding move, reports David Newton of ESPN.com. Johnson, meanwhile, hit the waiver wire on Wednesday, when Minnesota parted with him after he played in two of the team’s games last year.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/16/17

Today’s minor moves:

Carolina Panthers

Dallas Cowboys

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Minnesota Vikings

  • Waived: DL B.J. Dubose

Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington Redskins

Latest On Michael Oher

  • Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher turned himself in to Nashville police on Tuesday and will now appear in court on June 6, according to Joseph Person and Lavendrick Smith of the Charlotte Observer. Oher was cited for misdemeanor assault last week following an altercation with an Uber driver in which Oher allegedly knocked the driver to the ground. Carolina selected Western Michigan tackle Taylor Moton in the second round, so Oher — who is still dealing with concussion concerns on top of his legal issues — isn’t a lock to return as a starter, or even make the roster, in 2017.

Bills Hire Brandon Beane As GM

The Bills have announced former Panthers executive Brandon Beane as their new general manager. Beane’s contract will run concurrent with that of head coach Sean McDermott, meaning Beane is signed through the 2021 campaign, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Bills Helmet (Featured)

Landing on Beane was always considered a likely outcome for Buffalo, especially given Beane’s ties with McDermott. The duo spent time together in Carolina, and will now form a tandem decision-making squad after Buffalo fired general manager Doug Whaley last week.

While it’s unclear who will have the final say over personnel choices and the makeup of the 53-man roster, there’s little doubt that McDermott is now firmly in place as a key operative in the Bills’ structure. Even with Whaley still in place during the draft, McDermott was reportedly essential as Buffalo made its picks. But McDermott’s familiarity with Beane should enable the club to quickly establish a new paradigm as it moves past the Whaley regime.

Beane wasn’t the only candidate for the Bills general manager position, as Buffalo also interviewed three other executives for the vacancy. Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst, Eagles director of college scouting Trey Brown, and Texans director of player personnel Brian Gaine were also considered for the position.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bills To Interview Brandon Beane Again

On Monday, Packers director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst became the fourth executive to interview for the Bills’ vacant general manager post, but only one has booked a second meeting with the team. That’s Panthers assistant GM Brandon Beane, who will head back to Buffalo for another sitdown with the club this week, tweets ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

NFL: Buffalo Bills-Sean McDermott Press Conference

Beane has emerged as the favorite to land the job, per Schefter, which isn’t surprising when you consider his ties to first-year Bills head coach Sean McDermott. The two are familiar with each other from McDermott’s tenure in Carolina, where he served as the defensive coordinator over the previous six seasons.

Despite his inexperience as a head coach, McDermott has become arguably the most prominent voice in the Bills organization during his first few months in Buffalo. McDermott’s influence at Bills headquarters helped lead to ex-GM Doug Whaley‘s ouster, so Whaley’s successor will clearly have to share power with the coach to some degree.

Along with Gutekunst and Beane, the Bills have met with Texans director of player personnel Brian Gaine and Eagles director of college scouting Trey Brown regarding their GM position. As of now now, though, it seems that the job is Beane’s to lose.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.