Jordan Gross has been a stalwart at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers since the team drafted him in the first round back in 2003. Gross’ contract expired this season, and he was debating between retirement and coming back for another season or two. It appears that decision has been made, as the Panthers’ official Twitter account tweeted that Gross will announce his retirement at a press conference tomorrow.
This news is a big blow for the Panthers’ hopes of defending their NFC South title next season. The Panthers do not have a replacement for Gross on the roster, and they are not in a great situation financially. The Panthers have quite a few free agents, including star defensive end Greg Hardy. They were already going to have to make some tough decisions, and that doesn’t include the cap room that Cam Newton’s impending massive contract extension is going to take up.
However, the Panthers can now add left tackle to their list of offseason needs. They have the 28th pick in the draft, and they will certainly be considering a tackle. Cyrus Kouandijo, Zack Martin, Antonio Richardson and Morgan Moses are among the names that the Panthers could be looking at with that pick. In free agency, they would have to make some key sacrifices elsewhere if they wanted to make a play for Branden Albert or even Eugene Monroe. A scenario in which they can afford one of those players, Hardy and a quality free agent receiver seems rather unlikely.
The Panthers might be best served to look at a second tier option in free agency, such as Jared Veldheer. Veldheer is coming off a triceps injury, and the idea of upgrading from the Oakland Raiders to the Panthers could be enticing. However, the Raiders do have the money to make Veldheer a compelling offer. Lesser options could include Zach Strief, Eric Winston and Roger Saffold, though all are right tackles by trade.
The draft is the best way for the Panthers to add a long term solution at left tackle, especially given their financial situation. However, there is a good chance that they will not be able to find a player late in the first round that is ready to come in and protect Newton’s blindside immediately on a team that is a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Trading up could be an option, but it would take a huge move to land one of the top three tackle prospects. Gross owes the Panthers nothing after giving them 12 stellar seasons, but his retirement has certainly left them in a tricky spot. The Panthers were hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but left tackle just became their most pressing offseason need.