Entering the offseason, we take a complete look at the Panthers roster.
The guard is changing in Carolina. Gone are Luke Kuechly and Greg Olsen. Potentially Cam Newton too. In are Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. The master plan that these two men sold owner David Tepper on will have massive consequences for the composition of the roster moving forward.
In this edition, I paired up with co-expert Luke Tucker ( ) to break down the Panthers roster entering the offseason.
Returning starter: Cam Newton
Returning reserves: Will Grier
Potential departures: Kyle Allen (ERFA), Cam Newton (trade)
Level of need: Moderate. The struggles and inconsistency at the quarterback position doomed Carolina’s 2019 season. Losing Cam Newton in Week Two certainly hurt, and Allen proved that while he has potential, he makes too many critical mistakes. Grier played in just a game-and-a-half and struggled during that time. He is a better long-term prospect than Allen, though.
Offseason outlook: By the time the Panthers are slated to draft at No. 7 overall, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa will almost certainly be gone. Justin Herbert could be a potential pick; however, recent reports suggest there’s a good chance the Chargers will take him with the sixth pick. Despite the draft talk, Carolina could also elect to keep Newton, who when healthy is plenty capable of leading the team back to the playoffs. The question with him, though, is whether or not he’ll ever actually be healthy again.
Returning starter: Christian McCaffrey
Returning reserves: Jordan Scarlett, Mike Davis, Alex Armah
Potential departures: Reggie Bonnafon (ERFA)
Level of need: Low. McCaffrey emerged as one of the best–if not the best–running backs in the NFL in 2019. He nearly broke the single-season yards from scrimmage record and tied for the league lead in total touchdowns.
Offseason outlook: The only problem with the Panthers’ run game is that behind CMC, no one was a real contributor. Bonnafon showed promise when given an opportunity, and he’ll likely be back next season, while Jordan Scarlett was held exclusively to special teams duty. Carolina will need to find someone to give McCaffrey a spell moving forward, whether it be Bonnafon or Scarlett, or even Mike Davis who will remain under contract in 2020.
Returning starters: DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel
Returning reserves: Jarius Wright, Brandon Zylstra
Potential departures: Chris Hogan (UFA), DeAndrew White (RFA)
Level of need: Moderate. Moore proved he is a number-one receiver in 2019, putting up the best season of any Panthers pass-catcher since Steve Smith’s 2012 campaign. Curtis Samuel had a solid year, although he appears to be more of a gadget-type player than a true wide receiver.
Offseason outlook: Brandon Zylstra and Chris Hogan were the team’s only receivers over six-foot in 2019, and they combined for just 16 catches for 173 yards. That being said, the Panthers were clearly lacking a big threat on the outside this past season. Robby Anderson could help on the outside via free agency, and Tee Higgins or Denzel Mims could be options in the draft. All are at least 6’3” and could help bolster one of the NFL’s worst red-zone passing offenses from 2019.
Returning starter: Greg Olsen
Returning reserves: Ian Thomas, Chris Manhertz, Temarrick Hemingway
Potential departures: Marcus Baugh (ERFA)
Level of need: Moderate. Greg Olsen’s retirement is coming soon, and very well could happen in the next few months. Ian Thomas has shown flashes, and is a big, athletic target, but has struggled with consistency. Manhertz is no more than a run-blocker, and Temarrick Hemingway is a project.
Offseason outlook: The direction Carolina goes at this position really depends on what Olsen decides to do. If he retires, then it’s likely that the team will go after a tight end in either the draft or free agency, unless they believe Thomas can succeed as a full-time starter. Potential free agent options include Hunter Henry and Eric Ebron. Possible draft targets include LSU’s Thaddeus Moss (son of Randy Moss) or Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins.
Returning starters: Greg Little, Matt Paradis, Trai Turner, Taylor Moton
Returning reserves: Dennis Daley, Tyler Larsen
Potential departures: Greg Van Roten (UFA), Daryl Williams (UFA), Dillon Gordon (RFA), Brandon Greene (ERFA), Kitt O’Brien (ERFA)
Level of need: High. There’s no question that the Panthers’ offensive line was awful throughout the 2019 season. Carolina was tied for most sacks allowed during the regular season, combining for almost 500 yards lost–by far the most in the NFL. On top of that, Carolina’s offensive line was the worst in the league in situations of two yards or less on third and fourth down.
Offseason outlook: Greg Van Roten had a solid season at right guard, and it would make sense to bring him back; however, left tackle remains a revolving door. In fact, since Jordan Gross retired after the 2013 season, the Panthers have yet to find a reliable blindside protector. Fortunately for them, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas could fall to Carolina at number seven. Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs would also be a potential option, although he figures to be more of a right tackle in the NFL.
Defensive Line: Returning starters: DE Kawann Short, DT Dontari Poe
Returning reserves: Christian Miller, Efe Obada, Woodrow Hamilton
Potential departures: Vernon Butler, Wes Horton, Kyle Love, Gerald McCoy, Stacy McGee
Level of need: High. The Panthers entered the 2019 offseason desperately needing to improve an abysmal pass rush. Goal accomplished. The Panthers finished second in the NFL in sacks (53) and did it while blitzing only 26.4 percent of the time. The additions of Brian Burns and McCoy certainly helped in this area.
This offseason brings a whole new challenge, with Hurney required to fix the league’s 29th ranked rush defense.
Offseason outlook: Will the Panthers play a 4-3 or 3-4? That’s the question facing the team. Butler and McCoy are both probably gone at this point. Especially, Butler, who was ejected in the Panthers’ penultimate game of the season for punching Jack Doyle.
A very intriguing option this offseason will be Derrick Brown, the star defensive tackle out of Auburn. He gives the Panthers everything they need in a run-stuffing and pass-rushing defensive playmaker.
Returning starter: Shaq Thompson
Returning reserves: Brian Burns, Marquis Haynes, Jermaine Carter, Andre Smith, Jordan Kunaszyk, Sione Teuhema
Potential departures: Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin
Level of need: Massive. There probably isn’t a bigger hole on the Panthers’ roster than at linebacker, where star Luke Kuechly used to roam.
Offseason outlook: The Panthers signed Thompson to a four-year deal shortly before Kuechly’s retirement and that’s looking like a really smart decision now. Irvin and Addison are both 4-3 specialists, so if the Panthers switch, they likely won’t be retained. A player like Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson would be an elite pick for the Panthers if he is still there at the No. 7 overall slot.
Patrick Onwuasor could be an intriguing free agent for the Panthers. Onwuasor was offered a lucrative long term contract with the Ravens last season but turned it down, attempting to bet on himself and gain more money. It backfired and he could hit the market at a drastically reduced price. If the Panthers are looking for a bounceback candidate, he could certainly fit the bill.
Returning starter: Donte Jackson, Corn Elder
Returning reserves: Dominique Hatfield
Potential departures: James Bradberry, Ross Cockrell, Javien Elliott
Level of need: Moderate. Will the Panthers resign Bradberry? If so then this isn’t nearly as big of a concern. As it stands, the team would do itself good to bring in some depth and fresh faces.
Offseason outlook: Resigning Bradberry will be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason. This will be Bradberry’s first deal off of his rookie contract and he will be paid handsomely. Will it be by the Panthers?
Potential free agents that could be fits for the Panthers include Byron Jones, Jimmy Smith, Darqueze Dennard, and Bradley Roby. If Jeffrey Okudah from Ohio State falls to the Panthers, it could be a great value pick.
Returning starter: Eric Reid
Returning reserves: Colin Jones, T.J. Green, Nate Jamerson, Quin Blanding
Potential departures: Cole Luke, Tre Boston
Level of need: Medium. This is very much contingent on what the Panthers decide to do with Boston. If he is resigned, then this conversation is moot.
Offseason outlook: The Panthers have a ton of needs throughout the roster and creating a problem at safety seems like an unnecessary hurdle to add to the offseason. With Reid signing a three-year, $22-million deal last offseason, it’s easy to imagine a world where the Panthers will re-sign Boston and be done with it. This is also probably the easiest position on the team to upgrade this offseason, so if Boston is looking for a long-term deal, don’t be surprised if the Panthers look elsewhere.
Returning starter: Graham Gano, Michael Palardy, J.J. Jansen
Returning reserves: Elliott Fry
Potential departures: Joey Slye
Level of need: None. The Panthers are set with Gano, Palardy, and Jansen.
Offseason outlook: The Panthers will have a decision on whether to keep Slye or Gano moving forward, but there is absolutely no need to go outside the organization to bring someone in. Slye was 25-32 on field goals and 31-35 on extra points in his rookie campaign, while the last time we saw Gano, he was 14-16 on field goals and 30-33 on extra points.
A case can definitely be made that the Panthers should bring a new return man to improve that area. Carolina finished 21st in punt return yards and 22nd in kick return yards while failing to score a touchdown in either category.