Now that the first weekend of the 2010 NFL free agency is over, we can look and assess the next step for teams to make.
There is no question that one of the most news-worthy teams from the first weekend was the Carolina Panthers. The only problem for fan is that they have not been in the news for the reasons they were hoping for.
The first big step the Panthers made was deciding not to apply their franchise tag to defensive end Julius Peppers for the second consecutive year. Peppers then signed a 6-year deal worth $91.5 million, $42 million of which is guaranteed, with the Chicago Bears.
Following the loss of the elite defensive end was the releasing of quarterback Jake Delhomme. This move surprised many people, including Delhomme himself. The Panthers decision to apply the highest possible tender to restricted free agent quarterback Matt Moore, valuing him at first and a third round picks solidifies the fact that Moore will be the leader of the offense for the “Cardiac Cats” in 2010.
Even more baffling were the releases of veteran defenders from 2009. Defensive tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu was looking forward to his return to Carolina after rupturing his Achilles tendon in training camp. Instead, he was released, along with fellow defensive tackle and 2009 starter Damione Lewis.
These moves leave the Panthers with no returner from the original starting defensive line from last season. The fourth player being defensive end Taylor Brayton, who is an unrestricted free agent for 2010 and is still available.
The Panthers also cut veteran linebackers Na’il Diggs and Landon Johnson. Diggs and Johnson combined for 59 tackles in 2009. This leaves notable depth issues at linebacker, as well as the starting position needing to be filled.
So far in the offseason, Carolina has signed one player, defensive tackle Ed Johnson.
Where do the Panthers go from here? There are notable voids to be filled. Even with the high tenders placed on quarterback Matt Moore and linebacker Thomas Davis, both positions still need depth. And with the releasing of Lewis and Kemoeatu, defensive tackle becomes an even bigger need.
At quarterback, I expect to see the Panthers look for a future quarterback in the draft. Look for a third or fourth round pick to be used. The biggest and most likely name to watch for is Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour. In addition to a rookie, look for a veteran signing, perhaps Brodie Croyle or Josh McCown, who was with the Panthers in 2009.
Wide receiver is still a glaring need for the Panthers, as their passing offense is lifeless and monotonous. Steve Smith is still worth a few good plays, but without a weapon on the opposite side of Smith, opposing defenses can hone in on Smith, rendering him useless to Moore. Look for a second round pick to be used on a playmaker. Mardy Gilyard from Cincinnati and Brandon LaFell from LSU would be nice fits.
The defensive line issues will likely be solved in free agency. However, the only defensive end in free agency this season that would have made a difference was Aaron Kampman, but he recently signed with Jacksonville. There are reports that the Panthers have interest in former New York Jets’ defensive end Marques Douglas. I also expect a run after defensive end Raheem Brock, who was coached by current defensive coordinator Ron Meeks in Indianapolis. If both are signed, Douglas may slide inside to defensive tackle to bring more athleticism to the position.
The linebacker position should not be as interesting to outsiders. Panthers’ fans however should look for James Anderson and Dan Connor to battle for the starting roll opposite Thomas Davis. I do fully believe a draft pick will be use for depth. Florida State’s Dakoda Watson or South Carolina’s Eric Norwood would fit the system very well and have the athletic ability to succeed quickly.
Other positions need depth, such as offensive guard and middle linebacker, if Dan Connor slides to outside linebacker permanently.
However, I feel strongly that if these moves are made by the Panthers successfully, they can salvage an offseason that was otherwise depressing for fans.
Stay tuned to Section 26 Sports for more Panthers updates as the happen.