5 Carolina Panthers Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency

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5 Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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The Carolina Panthers were one of the most intriguing teams to follow in the NFL last season. A squad that has been on the list of up-and-coming sleepers for a while now, they finally broke through and made a mark on the playoffs. Now, after such a great season, they head into the offseason with more questions than answers about how their roster will look in the future.

They’re at an awkward place in their development. Like a weak-kneed teenager, they have tons of potential, but a long way to go before they can reach it. There are too many hurdles for them to jump over in their salary cap situation for me to have an overriding sense of confidence that they can be a contender on a consistent basis.

The Panthers still have a few bad deals, especially with their running backs, hanging over their head for me to think they can put enough talent on the field to go from plucky upstart to legitimate title contender.

They took a big step forward when they used the franchise tag to keep Greg Hardy around for another year, but the mere fact that they didn’t have the cap flexibility to sign him long-term is a symptom of their salary cap woes.

Carolina has a chance to build a real winner this offseason, but they have plenty of pitfalls they need to avoid, while at the same time getting better at several key positions. If won’t be easy, but if nothing else they will be as fun to watch in the offseason as they were in the regular season.

Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. Can They Keep Captain Munnerlyn?

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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The Carolina secondary was hidden for most of the year last season because the defensive front seven was so good in front of them. But can they afford to let Captain Munnerlyn walk away? The answer is probably no, but they also can’t afford to give him the kind of deal he will likely get on the open market.

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4. How Long Will Steve Smith Stay A Panther?

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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Steve Smith has been the face of the franchise for a while now. Those days are over, as are his days of being a top-tier NFL receiver. He still has plenty to offer, but with a huge $7 million cap number next year, he has been rumored to be on either the trading block or the chopping block. The only reason he hasn’t been shown the door yet is because they are so thin at the position right now.

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3. Who Will Come In At Wide Receiver?

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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Even if they keep Smith, and that is looking more and more unlikely by the minute, they still need at least one more quality option at receiver. And if they let him go, they will have one of the weakest receiving groups in the league. They’re likely to address this need in the draft this year, but they could look to the free agent market to bring in a starting receiver or two.

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2. Can They Replace Jordan Gross?

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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Jordan Gross was a mainstay at left tackle in Carolina for the last decade. Now that he has called it quits for his career, the Panthers are in need of someone else to take over on the all-important left edge of the offensive line. They might be in the market for a starter in free agency, but good left tackles don’t come cheap on the open market.

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1. Does Cam Newton Get A New Deal?

Carolina Panthers 2014 NFL Free Agency
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The Panther’s franchise quarterback Cam Newton is coming into the final year of his rookie contract. The team could opt to have him play next year on that deal, but that would only be putting off giving him his big payday, a move that could cause some bad blood between the front office and one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. Most teams in their position choose to give players like Newton a new deal as soon as they can. Let’s see if the Panthers do the same.


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