by Paul Wanecski
The Carolina Panthers are a recovering team. For several seasons, they have made mistakes in free agency signings and contract extension. It appears now that they are one season away from being able to take a giant leap forward. This draft will be a major component in getting the value and depth they need for the coming generation of Panther’s fans.
The Panthers have only 19 players under contract for the 2016 year. They are rolling in with $15.75 million in current cap space and they cannot do much to squeeze much more out of the roster. HC Ron Rivera will have his hands full trying to find a left tackle and wide receiver this offseason.
LB Thomas Davis has finally turned in a healthy season and was very solid. He has earned himself a contract extension which will bring cap relief with restructuring some of his base salary into bonus money.
DE Charles Johnson’s contract is a disaster. His contract contains voidable years which means that he will have salary cap implications even when he isn’t on the team (right now, he will cost over $3 million against the cap for 2016 even though 2015 is the last year of his contract). While the team could work out an extension, he isn’t worth it.
TE Greg Olsen’s contract will also void at the end of this season. He should also be extended for another 2-3 seasons.
DE Greg Hardy will not return.
LT Byron Bell is not really a left tackle. He will catch on with someone at the right tackle, it just won’t be the Panthers.
LB Chase Blackburn should not be extended an offer much above league minimum. If he turns it down, it is not a big issue for the team.
RB DeAngelo Williams has already been released, which was only a surprise to him.
The Panthers would benefit from trading this pick away. While they do have a glaring need at adding wide receiver depth and will go on the hunt for a left tackle, the value they get for moving down might be the best thing for them. While free agency will not be plentiful with left tackles, wide recievers are a different story.
T DJ Humphries (Florida), T TJ Clemmings (Pittsburgh) and T Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) would be solid fits. If T Andrus Peat (Stanford) is still available (he shouldn’t be), he would be the pick.
The team will also need to find a pass rusher and this draft is full of them. The group is so deep, they make take this in the 2nd round or even wait until the 3rd. Of course all this changes if the team trades down.
2015 will be the year of dumpster-diving for defensive end veterans or young controllable talent. Picking up DE Kony Ealy in the draft last year, along with losing Hardy this season and Johnson next season, the team will need to add players at a value while they clear out all these poor contracts.
Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)