Free Agency Frenzy: Panthers Edition – By Chris Allen
Today started like any other day. I woke up at 6am, had a banana, watched a bit of the Today Show and then went to work. WFNZ was ablaze with callers banging on the Matt Kalil deal. Worried about losing AJ “I’m not Luuuke” Klein and Ted Ginn Jr to the Saints. But all the calls had one common theme, “Dave Gettleman needs to get off his ass and get to work.”. Based on the way Friday went, Dave, also had his banana and got to work.
12 hours later, this was a new team and Dave has pushed his chips to the center of the table. In what will go down as the busiest day of free agency in Panthers history, the front office shored up some big holes on the roster. General Manager, Dave Gettleman, made no secret that he was going to spend every penny he had to make this roster better. After day one, few believed him. Even after he signed Matt Kalil to a 5yr/$55.5m deal. Gettleman kept our eyes glued to Twitter all day and even well in to the night. Let’s recap that action.
I won’t spend much time on the departures, as these players are now dead to us. Ted Ginn Jr signed a three year deal with the Saints. Presumably, to replace Brandin Cooks, who had been rumored and then traded to the Patriots. Panthers fans rejoiced at the idea of playing Ginn twice a year and seeing Brees’s completion percentage fall by 10 points. Good luck selling Ginn replacing Cooks to your fan base. Side note, how is Mickey Loomis still a GM? The Saints are always over the cap and still making deals. But good for Ted, signing a three year deal that is likely to be his last. Next up, right tackle and amusement park turnstile, Mike Remmers. He signed a 5yr/$30m deal with the Minnesota Vikings and was part of the $89m they spent on two new tackles. I’m sorta kidding about Remmers. He was a valuable piece for the Panthers. He was never hurt and rarely missed a snap. Asking him to play LT was not part of the plan and not easy for him. Like Brenton Bersin, who returned punts a few years ago, he dealt with angry fans. But it wasn’t all sunshine for Remmers, he did get beat often, and badly. Most notably by Von Miller in Super Bowl 50. But it’s Von Millers, he’s the best at what he does. At the end of the day, Mike Remmers is now a $30m tackle, weather its fair or not, not my call.
Now on to the good stuff. Word leaked out on Thursday night, that the Panthers were in talks with former Bucs WR and special team ace, Russell Shepard. Around 7am, that seemed like a done deal. Most fans were focused on him replacing the production of Ted Ginn. Other focused on his special teams prowess. Either way, based on the amount of love he was getting from Bucs fans, it looked that we had both a solid player and solid man.
About 10:30am, chatter was starting to pick up that Julius Peppers, Panthers legend, was going to resign with the team for his final season. By noon, word was out and it was a done deal. Kelli Bartlik of WCCB-Charlotte, had the scoop first. This was big news. Peppers, once drafted No.2 overall out of the University of North Carolina, was set to be the savior. Then after one Super Bowl appearance in eight seasons, he left after being offered the largest contract in NFL history. Some fans were salty, myself included. But we mostly moved on and welcomed Julius back to the family. This should serve as his last stop before he in enshrined in Canton in the Hall of Fam class of 2023.
But it didn’t stop there. Another big hole was filled, by yet another Pro Bowler. This time it was former Colts SS, Mike Adams. Adams has been around the league for a while and will be 35 when the season starts. But make no mistake, he is still playing good football. He has 12 interceptions over the last three season and went to two of the three Pro Bowls. You can pencil him in as your starting SS alongside Kurt Coleman. Our new safety tandem has a combined 26 interceptions in the last three seasons.
While everybody was still catching up on the Adams signing, Gettleman made a trade. Sending former second round pick and Super Bowl 50 star, Kony Ealy, to the Patriots. The deal was Ealy and a third round pick in exchange for the Pats second round pick. Basically, they swapped picks with the Pats and moved up eight spots to No. 64. The Panthers coaching staff had decided they had seen enough of Ealy and were ready to move on. With the bevy of defensive linemen on the roster, they didn’t see him making the team in August. For them, it was move on now and get something, or wait and get nothing.
The next move was a curve ball for most fans. The headline of “Panthers sign WR Charles Johnson”, seemed a few days old. Turns out there is more than one Charles Johnson in the league and this one is a receiver. Johnson, a speedster from Grand Valley State, who flashed as a rookie and hasn’t shown much since. Part of that was the system. Last season, he only had 20 catches on 43 targets. Almost identical 2016 stats as Russell Shepard. During his rookie year, Teddy Bridgewater was a game manager QB and still had two working knees. Adrian Peterson was still running and actually getting yards. This opened up the offense for the deep pass and that is where Johnson shines. I’m betting this is who Gettleman had in mind to replace Ted Ginn Jr and his speed. I believe Johnson is going to be a project player for the coaches. With the right coaching and a QB who throws one of the best deep balls in the league, he may work out and find a spot.
When 5 o’clock rolled around, most of us assumed that it was a wrap to a big day in Pantherland. Let’s grab a beer and enjoy our spoils, right? Wrong. Little did we know, while we were enjoying dinner, DG was wrapping up a contract with another former Panther. This time it was CB, Captain Munnerlyn. The former seventh round pick from South Carolina, he played with the Panthers from 2009-2013. Head coach, Ron Rivera often spoke about Captain and how much he enjoyed coaching him. Out of all the deals the Panthers dished out on Friday, this was the perfect icing on the cake. Munnerlyn provided the grit and attitude that this defense lacked after Josh Norman went to Washington. He isn’t going to be afraid to push Cam Newton in practice, like Norman often did. Aside from Thomas Davis, Munnerlyn may be the biggest mouth on defense. That’s a good thing.
Let’s recap this one. Kony Ealy, Mike Remmers, AJ Klien, Ted Ginn Jr and a third round pick are gone. Matt Kalil, Russell Shepard, Julius Peppers, Mike Adams, Charles Johnson, Captain Munnerlyn and a second round pick are in. The Panthers were able to fill every major void on the team, all in the first 48 hours free agency. It’s likely they are done for now and by my count, they have around $9m in cap space remaining. Most of that will be set aside for the draft class. But we may see a TE or OL signed before the April draft.
Gettleman did exactly what he said he would. He set the roster up so he wouldn’t have to reach in the draft. This Panthers roster is in better shape now, than it has ever been under this regime. Bottom line, Dave Gettleman put his money where his mouth is. He opened his wallet and shut us up. The Panthers had the busiest 48 hours of any team thus far and it was an exhausting day. Let’s enjoy these new toys for a few days and then it’s time to move on to the draft. See you in Philly.