One season after reaching the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers proved the hangover is real. They failed to reach .500, finishing with a dismal 6-10 record. It was the result of not having a dominant defense, the offensive line falling apart and Cam Newton coming back down to earth after being the league MVP.
So where does Carolina turn now? For starters, the offensive line needs to be addressed – namely both tackle positions. They’ve already retained their two biggest free agents in Kawann Short and Mario Addison, yet they still have about $36 million in cap space – depending on whether Short signs long-term or plays on the tag.
Here are five free agents the Panthers should target next week.
DE Charles Johnson (Panthers)
Johnson isn’t the pass rusher he once was, and given his age (31), he may never be. However, while he’s no longer a 10-sack force off the edge, he can still hold up against the run. That accounts for something, even in today’s NFL that judges defensive ends on sacks. With Mario Addison returning in a presumably much larger role, the Panthers can retain Johnson to be more of a situational guy on early downs. With the top pass rushers off the board, Johnson is about as good of a fit as the Panthers can expect in free agency.
Getty ImagesGrant Halverson
CB Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings)
The Panthers tried to address the cornerback position in the draft after rescinding Josh Norman’s franchise tag, selecting James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez. However, while the first two look like solid starters, they still need a consistent guy in the nickel. Munnerlyn would fill that role with ease, performing fairly well against slot receivers in Minnesota. He may not be a long-term option considering his age, but for the next three or four years, he can be a cog in the starting lineup.
WR DeSean Jackson (Redskins)
Ted Ginn Jr. is a free agent, and his role on offense is fairly one-dimensional: run deep and catch touchdowns. Jackson is a similar player, but he’s far closer to a No. 1 option than Ginn is. He can take a slant route 75 yards for a touchdown despite being on the wrong side of 30, which is why he’s sure to be an asset on the open market. Jackson would be a good replacement if Ginn leaves, giving Cam Newton another deep threat. He’s no longer in his prime, but with Kelvin Benjamin on one side, the Panthers could use a speedy No. 2 like Jackson.
Mitchell LeffGetty Images
RT Riley Reiff (Lions)
Mike Remmers is a free agent, which isn’t a huge deal because he wasn’t good last season anyway. Reiff made the switch to right tackle last season, but he still has the ability to play left tackle, too. Because of that, he’d be a good fallback option if the Panthers can’t land Whitworth or a top tackle in the draft. He can come in and be an upgrade at either spot from Day 1 and help protect Carolina’s best asset, Cam Newton. The Panthers need to address their pass protection.
Jeff HanischJeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
LT Andrew Whitworth (Bengals)
Michael Oher is still in concussion protocol, which only further proves the point many have realized for months: The Panthers can’t go into 2017 with him as their starting left tackle. Whitworth is the top available player at that position, and it’s about time the Panthers go out and spend some money to shore up the offensive line. Whitworth can be a bridge until they find a suitable long-term answer at that spot while also playing at a Pro Bowl level. He’s still one of the best left tackles in the game at the age of 35.