NFL Carolina Panthers

Predicting 5 Big Free Agent Moves for the Carolina Panthers

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Predicting 5 Big Free Agent Moves for the Carolina Panthers

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The Carolina Panthers were one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL this season, as a team that many observers thought was still a year or two away defied the predictions with a 12-4 season and an NFC South title. The Panthers were the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but they were knocked out by the San Francisco 49ers.

The Panthers want to be able to sustain that success, and they are facing an offseason that is crucial for the future of the franchise. The Panthers are projected to have about $15 million of cap room, but they have 21 free agents hitting the market. The Panthers will likely have to restructure some of their bigger contracts in an attempt to create a little more space.

Much of the talk this offseason for the Panthers will center around defensive end Greg Hardy, who had 15 sacks this season. Hardy could get a big contract on the open market, making him too expensive for the Panthers. Jordan Gross, Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell are among the other starters the team has hitting the market, meaning some tough decisions are going to have to be made.

The Panthers need help at wide receiver, offensive line and in the secondary, where three of their four starters from this season are free agents. Coming up with enough money to get everything done will be very tricky for GM Dave Gettleman, and bargain hunting will be important. These are five moves that the Panthers could make this offseason as they attempt to strengthen their roster and build on this season’s success.

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5. Sign a Slot Receiver

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The Panthers need help at receiver, as Steve Smith is aging and Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell and Domenik Hixon are all free agents. The Panthers should make several additions in this area, and giving Cam Newton a quality slot receiver could help take the passing game to the next level.

Slot receivers tend to come cheaper than top level outside targets, which is why such a player makes sense both on the field and financially. Julian Edelman, Mario Manningham and Andre Roberts are three players that could fit well and be reasonably priced, giving Carolina’s passing game a different look.

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4. Target Affordable Defensive Backs

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Given how some other areas are likely to break down, it seems like the secondary will not be the position group that gets the big dollars. The Panthers could re-sign Munnerlyn as long as he isn’t asking for too much, and Quintin Mikell could be brought back on a cheap deal. The Panthers would very much like to re-sign Mitchell, and releasing Charles Godfrey could allow them to do it.

As far as the open market goes, lower priced vets like DeAngelo Hall, Charles Tillman and Jabari Greer could be options at corner, as could safeties like Antoine Bethea and Major Wright. No matter who they target, don’t expect the Panthers to sink big free agent money into the secondary. The draft seems like a much better option for them in this area.

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3. Re-Sign Jordan Gross

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Gross has talked about retiring, but the Panthers need him back. Gross won’t play for anyone else, and at this point he should be willing to take a pay cut to stay a part of this up and coming team. The Panthers simply don’t have a replacement for Gross, and they need to make sure they keep him on the roster.

Gross is still an effective player protecting Newton's blind side, and keeping him around for one more year will buy the Panthers more time to figure out a replacement plan. Gross is also an invaluable presence in the locker room, and the Panthers will want his leadership to stay part of their team.

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2. Sign Hakeem Nicks

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Hakeem Nicks is one of the two biggest names available at wide receiver, and the Panthers are a perfect fit. They need a young No. 1 receiver who can grow with Newton, as well as a bigger receiver to play opposite Smith. Nicks is a Charlotte native who played his college ball at North Carolina, and he could be interested in a homecoming. Gettleman is also very familiar with Nicks from their time together with the New York Giants.

Everything will come down to price with Nicks, and what the Panthers do with Hardy will matter as well. Nicks has dealt with some injuries and seen his production slide over the last few seasons, so the Panthers might be able to get a bargain. Nicks is just 26 and has been productive in the past, and he looks like a perfect fit in Carolina, if the price is right.

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1. Use Franchise Tag on Greg Hardy

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At the end of the day, I just can’t see the defensive minded Panthers letting a player as good as Hardy walk for nothing. If they let him go, they would have more cap flexibility to reinforce the secondary and the wide receiving corps. However, Hardy was such an invaluable part of their 2nd ranked defense that the trade-off might not be worth it.

Spending such a huge amount of money on Hardy and Charles Johnson is not the ideal way to build a team, but one more year of Hardy on the franchise tag lets the Panthers keep their outstanding front seven intact and gives them more time to negotiate a long term deal. Using the franchise tag on Hardy would make some other plans Carolina might have more difficult, but in the end I think they will believe Hardy is worth it.

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