Carolina lost Haason Reddick early in free agency and did not enter the draft holding a Day 2 pick. While the Panthers acquired a third-rounder, they used it to take Matt Corral. After addressing their top needs with their first two selections, the Panthers did not use one of their remaining choices on an edge rusher and are somewhat thin at that position.
Brian Burns returns to anchor Carolina’s edge group, and 2020 second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos has two years left on his contract, but the team is looking into help here, Joe Person of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Carolina’s $25MM-plus in cap space sits second in the league, and several talented pass rushers remain in free agency.
GM Scott Fitterer was with the Seahawks during Jadeveon Clowney‘s 2019 Seattle season. The Browns are interested in re-signing Clowney, a South Carolina native, but the former No. 1 overall pick is not in a rush. Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram and Trey Flowers are the other top names available. Flowers, 28, is the only member of the latter contingent south of 30. He also struggled while on his big-ticket Lions contract. The Ravens and Chiefs, respectively, placed UFA tenders on Houston and Ingram. This does not tie either player to those AFC teams, but both are entitled to 110% of their 2021 salaries. Whitney Mercilus and Ryan Kerrigan are also available.
Working in rotational roles in 2020 and ’21, Gross-Matos has six career sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The Panthers re-signed 2018 fourth-round pick Marquis Haynes, who combined for seven sacks in that span. The Panthers could see some of their salary cap space turn into Baker Mayfield, but the team wants the Browns to eat a sizable chunk of the quarterback’s salary in a trade. Carolina should still have some free funds to pursue a veteran edge — likely on a one-year deal — should Fitterer, Matt Rhule and Co. deem Burns’ current supporting cast insufficient.
Burns, who is now extension-eligible, attended Carolina’s initial OTAs but is now working out on his own in Florida, per Person. He is expected to attend the team’s mandatory June minicamp. The Panthers picked up Burns’ fifth-year option for 2023, fully guaranteeing him a $16MM salary next year. Teams are often hesitant about extending non-quarterbacks with two years of control remaining, though Fitterer has indicated a desire to extend Burns. The Panthers also have shown a willingness to do early extensions, having given Christian McCaffrey a record-setting deal when two years remained on his rookie contract. They waited until this offseason to extend D.J. Moore, who was to go into his fifth-year option season.