The Carolina Panthers are enjoying a heck of a comeback season largely because of a stingy defense and a strong ground game. But despite their 6-3 record and second place standing there’s always work to be done roster-wise. This team is far from perfect and will have some holes to address either in free agency or through the 2014 NFL Draft. Their biggest need depends on one thing: whether or not LT Jordan Gross retires after the season or not.
Gross restructured his contract last March, essentially voiding the remaining three years left on his six-year deal. He’s indicated that he’s unsure whether or not 2013 will be his last season, but if he does come back it’d only be for the Panthers.
If Gross does decide to come back, the Panthers still need to address the future of the position via the draft but might not have to necessarily spend a first round pick on it. If they do this they’ll be able to focus on adding a top flight receiver to aid a passing offense ranked 28th in the league.
Let’s assume Gross comes back, and I have a hunch he will, particularly because of how well this team is coming together. If this happens and if I were running the show, I’d focus on either Allen Robinson (Penn State) or Donte Moncrief (Ole Miss), because more than likely Sammy Watkins (Clemson), Marqise Lee (USC) and Mike Evans (Texas A&M) will be gone already. Both Robinson and Moncrief are big, fast and physical playmakers who have very well rounded skill sets. Both have the skills to play outside and one day takeover for 34 year old Steve Smith, who’s still going strong.
If they take either of them they can let go of Brandon LaFell, who’s by and large disappointed in his four seasons in Charlotte. Steve Smith, Moncrief or Allen and Ted Ginn in the slot? That’s something to work with right there.
After taking a receiver in round one they could then focus on adding an offensive tackle in round two where there should still be some talent in a very deep tackle class. La’el Collins (LSU), Seantrel Henderson (Miami), James Hurst (North Carolina) and Morgan Moses (Virginia) all should still be on the board at this point. Hurst and Henderson might be the only two of the four who can play the blindside at the next level, however, as Collins might get moved to guard and Moses might be best suited to play the right side.
You could very easily make the case to take a tackle first and a receiver second. I just happen to think the receiver class isn’t nearly as deep as the tackle class and that Gross will be back for another year whereas LaFell won’t.