Did you know the Panthers offense ranked third in the NFL with 22.9 points per game? The team scored points on 37.4 percent of their offensive drives. The Panthers defense allowed 322.6 yards per game, ranking ninth. The Panthers bounced back offensively and defensively from a dismal 2016 season. What happens next for the Panthers?
Free Agents information and cap numbers are courtesy of OverTheCap.
The Panthers currently have $20.3 million in projected cap space heading into free agency.
|Greg Van Roten||LG||RFA|
|PLAYER||POSITION||DEAD MONEY||CAP SAVING|
The clock’s ticking on Jonathan Stewart’s time in Carolina. Running backs have unfortunately become a dispensable position. It is one of the easiest positions to replace in today’s NFL and even more so for RBs who do not actively contribute to the passing game. Stewart’s effectiveness has been waning for years.
Christian McCaffrey had an excellent rookie season and will take on a more important role in 2018. McCaffrey and Cameron Artis-Payne will form an RB by committee which would allow the Panthers to free up $3.7 million in cap space by cutting Stewart.
Russell Shepard isn’t overly expensive and helps to fill out a thin WR depth chart, but his career production speaks volumes.
Shepard finished the season with only 32 targets, 17 receptions, 202 receiving yards, and one touchdown. He played 45 percent of the Panthers offensive snaps. The Panthers could choose to upgrade in free agency or the draft.
The front office will have some difficult decisions to make, especially on the offensive side. Still working through the GM hiring process, Carolina is also getting a new owner for the first time in franchise history.
WR, TE, QB, K
The Panthers need help at the wide receiver position after trading away Kelvin Benjamin for two draft picks. Devin Funchess solidified himself as the team’s No. 1 WR after the trade.
Funchess dealt with a shoulder injury for most of the season, but still had a breakout season. He set new career-highs with 63 catches, 840 receiving yards, and eight TDs. He also led the team with 1,423 air yards.
Curtis Samuel will look to have more of an impact after his rookie season ended in Week 10 last season when he suffered an ankle injury. He finished with a dismal 15 catches for 115 receiving yards. Will the Panthers find a reliable third WR?
One bold prediction is that the Panthers sign second-tier FA Marqise Lee to fill that role. Lee has totaled 119 receptions, 1,553 receiving yards and six TDs over the last two seasons.
Lee led the Jaguars in air yards with 1,121 as the No. 1 WR and accumulated 1,269 in 2016 as the No. 2 behind Allen Robinson. His ability to generate yards after the catch and versatility as a receiver would be a welcome addition to the Panthers offense.
Tight end Greg Olsen turns 33 this spring after an injury-plagued season. He missed nine games as a result of a foot fracture in Week 2 against the Bills which ended his streak of nine straight seasons playing all 16 games. Olsen had led the team in receptions each of the previous four seasons and has always been heavily targeted by Cam Newton.
The Panthers should prioritize finding a backup TE in the draft if the front office is unable to re-sign Ed Dickson on a team-friendly deal. The only remaining backups would be Scott Simonson and Chris Manhertz. Both of them ended the season on injured reserve. Simonson and Manhertz have combined for a career four receptions and 37 receiving yards.
QB Derek Anderson will be a 35-year old free agent. It would be wise for the Panthers to find a younger option to back up Newton.
Graham Gano bounced back nicely in 2017 after an inefficient 2016 season. Finding a sound and levelheaded kicker is not an easy task in today’s NFL. Gano signed a four-year, $12.4 million contract back in 2014. Could he be looking at a similar deal from the Panthers in free agency this year?
The Panthers have needs on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Given the team’s minimal cap space the front office will address a high percentage of these needs through the draft.
Stewart is a player to trade for those participating in dynasty formats given his age and declining production. Even if Stewart ends up in a favorable offensive situation, it would not be advisable to have high expectations. Olsen is a player to hold given the statistical volatility at the TE position.
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