Call me crazy, but at this point in the NFL off season, I still think it’s a little early to really zero in on who the Panthers will be taking at No. 8. There are still a lot of moves to be made before the draft gets here in late April. Like the Panthers, other teams are going to be cutting veterans to make more room under the cap. Long before the draft gets here, the Panthers will hope to fill most of their voids in free agency.
Free agency starts in just under three weeks. Expect the Panthers to be much more active than in the last few years. Most people at think point think that GM Dave Gettleman is just squirling away money for a rainy day. Not making the playoffs in 2017 was that rainy day. The Panthers are currently sitting just under 50 million in cap space. I think there are a few veterans that could find themselves looking for work else where in the next few weeks. Ed Dickson, Mike Tolbert, Paul Solai and Gino Gradkowski are just a few of the veterans I could see being released. Not to mention Graham Gano, who needs to be released. He’s the 4th highest paid kicker in the league and hasn’t ever played at that level. Shedding those contracts could free up another 10m in cap sapce. Expect 17m of that to be taken up by KK Short and the franchise tag. I do expect them to use the tag initially and then get a long term deal worked out before the start of camp. Sign your rookie class and that leaves them with around 38m in space.
Where does that money go? Beyond KK Short, I fully expect Ted Ginn Jr, Mario Addison and possibly Charles Johnson back. In the RFA class, I only expect Andrew Norwell to return. Possibly Philly Brown and Wes Horton. Neither of those last two players will cost much or have much of a market in free agency. So now you’re talking about maybe 30m for free agents from other teams.
While we would all love to see Eric Berry or JPP come to Charlotte, I wouldn’t bet on it. Maybe someone like Ricky Wagner, the RT from the Ravens. Or possibly Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth on a one year deal. The Panthers aren’t going to be a player for many of the big time free agents. But look for some veterans to sign one to two year “prove it” deals. I wouldn’t be mad at Victor Cruz signing to take the slot roll that was vacated last season by Jericho Cotchery. And of course, hometown guy Julius Peppers. Most people, including myself have moved on from being salty about Peppers and the situation he created when he left. One year on a cheap deal, why not? I’m sure you’d get more from Peppers than Charles Johnson.
At the end of the day, there are still a ton of dominoes that have to fall before we get to April 27th. Sit tight, I know it’s fun to read mock draft and make fun of the pundits that have the Panthers taking a CB in the first round. But give it some time, relax and enjoy this great weather we are having right now. I’ll have my 7 round Panthers mock draft up in about three weeks.