The Carolina Panthers are in a strange position this offseason.
With uncertainty at the quarterback position (at least from management, it seems), one of the worst run defenses in recent memory, and a roster full of aging talent, there was not much hope as the Panthers lost eight games in a row to end the season.
In being an extremely unpredictable offseason, I am going to create what my dream offseason would look like for the Carolina Panthers.
Step One: Picking A Head Coach
There are really only three main coaches that I am considering for this: Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Lincoln Riley is not included on the assumption that he will not leave the Oklahoma Sooners.
But as the general manager of the Carolina Panthers, I am going to pick Eric Bieniemy of the proven Andy Reid coaching tree. In his first year as the Chiefs offensive coordinator in 2018, his Patrick Mahomes-led offense led the NFL in both yards and points scored. This year, his offense is fifth in passing yards per game and sixth in total offensive yards gained.
The offensive coordinator hired during this dream offseason is Joe Brady, the current mastermind behind Joe Burrow’s magical Heisman season. Brady was an assistant on the New Orleans Saints.
I know that Joe Brady is almost certainly going to be apart of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s future head coaching staff, but this is a dream off-season, damn it.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jack Del Rio is going to come from the television booth. Del Rio has been a defensive coordinator for four whole seasons and had a top-5 defense essentially every single one of them.
Del Rio was the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers in 2002 when he led them to become the second-best defense in the NFL. This isn’t a sexy pick by any means, but Del Rio is, by all means, a significantly better DC than head coach (especially for the Raiders).
Let’s get to the internal moves.
I am going to be using the Fanspeak “Manage The Cap” Free Agency simulator to determine my free agency signings. I can cut, re-sign, and possibly franchise tag players. There are no limitations as to who I can cut. Anyone is on the table.
Poe simply has not lived up to his contract and entering a year where he is due upwards of $10 million, this is the only correct move. After this, though, the interior defensive line spot will have to be addressed with only Kawann Short under contract.
Poe was injured for a large portion of this past season, but even so, the Panthers tied the record for most touchdown runs given up in a given season. That is not a good statistic.
Savings: $10 million
Sure, this says “CUTS”, but I’m 90% sure Greg Olsen is retiring after this season anyway. The nine-year Panther legend has been incredibly reliable throughout his career but recently has not been able to match his once-elite production.
Olsen retiring saves the Panthers a decent amount of money, and even if he were to keep playing, I’m not sure Carolina would bring him back for another year.
Savings: $8 million
Wright had five drops this past season while yielding less than 300 total receiving yards. Wright caught less than two passes per game and scored zero touchdowns. He is not worth his 2020 cap figure in any way whatsoever. Jarius Wright is, at worst, an easy cut and should not be a Panther next year.
Savings: $3 million
It’s puzzling why the Panthers even claimed Mike Davis in the first place. He played little to no snaps behind Christian McCaffrey and Reggie Bonnafon and his cap number just is not reasonable given he is a third-string running back.
Mike Davis showed some skills during his short stint in Chicago but he is another easy cut along with Jarius Wright.
Savings: $3 million
Total Amount Saved Against the Cap: Roughly $24 million
WHO TO BRING BACK:
Bradberry apparently wants to be paid as if he is a top-5 corner in the NFL and as much as I want to believe that statement, he simply is not. The Panthers would likely have to give him over $14 million per year in order for him to stay. I only had about $60 million to use after cuts for this simulation. Giving ¼ of the available cap room to a corner that is not an elite player just is not understandable.
James Bradberry walks.
Initially, I was hesitant to re-sign Mario Addison. But he is Carolina’s most consistent edge rusher and, at worst, will provide mentorship to Brian Burns. Addison turns 33 in September but might retire following this coming year, so if anything, he will be back on a short-term deal.
New Contract: Two years, $15 million (about 7.5 guaranteed)
As much as I would love to have Gerald McCoy back on the Panthers, there are other options available in free agency that I prefer. McCoy is aging and a spectacular personality off of the field. I just do not believe bringing him back would benefit the long-term goals of this defense.
Gerald McCoy walks.
Butler sealed his fate after he punched the wrong person after getting blocked 15 yards downfield by a Colts offensive lineman. Following an ejection, he gave the middle finger to a Colts crowd while trailing by over 20 points. After a somewhat positive season, I am still happy to let Butler walk and count towards the compensation pick formula.
Hogan really did not have any major impact on the Panthers season this year, mainly because he was on IR for half of it. He is a solid depth receiver and could provide hands for another team. I don’t see the point in re-signing Hogan.
Cockrell was a great depth corner for the Panthers and even outplayed 2018 second-round draft pick Donte Jackson in the final quarter of the season. Cockrell was well worth his contract and should be back in the black-and-blue next year, for the right price.
New Contract: Two years, $10 million (about 4.5 guaranteed)
Greg Van Roten:
GVR was actually not as horrible as many people anticipated this past season. He was fine but was hurt towards the end of the season. I offered Van Roten a contract on Fanspeak’s simulator but he sadly declined it (was around the two years/$3.5M range). I was not going any higher than that.
Others that walked:
(roughly $60 million available to use on free agents after cuts)
Signing number one: DJ Reader, interior defensive line, Four years, $50 million (roughly 35 guaranteed)
DJ Reader is a 25-year old 330-pound behemoth of a nose-tackle. The Panthers HAVE to fix their run defense and signing Greensboro-born DJ Reader would be a huge step in accomplishing that.
Reader was graded an 86.7 this past year by PFF and had nearly 40 solo tackles. He is an absolute monster anchoring a defense and would be spectacular next to Kawann Short. He is the biggest (literally and figuratively) signing in this simulation.
Signing number two: Joe Thuney, offensive guard, Four years, $30 million (roughly 23 guaranteed)
The Panthers need to get better in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Thuney is a solid offensive guard and only allowed one sack this past year according to PFF.
He would presumably go on the left side of the offensive line opposite of Trai Turner. Thuney is absolutely an upgrade over Daryl Williams, who gave up the most sacks of any guard in the NFL and definitely above the tier of guard that Van Roten finds himself as well.
Signing number three: Jason Peters, offensive tackle, One year, $9M (roughly 7.5 guaranteed)
Jason Peters is going to be 38 years old this coming season. That also means he could be either a stop-gap at left-tackle or someone that could help Greg Little and Dennis Daley learn the position better themselves.
Peters has been a solid contributor for the Eagles for like, ever, and might even retire after this year. But in this simulation, he’s coming to Carolina for a final season.
Signing number four: Karl Joseph, safety, Three years, $15 million (roughly 10 guaranteed)
After letting Tre Boston walk, there simply are not enough draft picks to solve the problem that is the Carolina Panthers secondary. Eric Reid is probably the only solid starter in the back four as it stands, even with Donte Jackson.
Karl Joseph is another promising player that could have his best days ahead of him. Signing him for about $5M a year could look really good in a few years.
WR Justin Hardy: Two years, $4M (2M guaranteed)
CB Cre’Von Leblanc: Two years, $4M (2M guaranteed)
TE Logan Thomas: One year, $1.5M (1M guaranteed)
EDGE Kamalei Correa: Two years, $8M (4M guaranteed)
DL Tyeler Davison: Three years, $13.5M (8M guaranteed)
WR Laquon Treadwell: Two years, $6M (2M guaranteed)
CB Trumaine Brock: One year, $3.5M (3M guaranteed)
DL Austin Johnson: Two years, $7M (4M guaranteed)
*I used The Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to simulate what I would do for the Panthers on draft night*
First Round: Derrick Brown, Defensive Line, Auburn
Okay, look: I know that there is a lot of money poured into the defensive line as it is right now. But, Derrick Brown is an incredible player and could truly help the Panthers front-3 become elite once again. It would be extremely difficult to run the ball against a defensive line that contains Kawann Short, DJ Reader, and Derrick Brown. That is truly needed after the Panthers had one of the worst run-defenses in NFL history.
Other players considered/available: Tristan Wirfs, Isaiah Simmons, CeeDee Lamb, Grant Delpit
Second Round: Paulsen Adebo, Corner, Stanford
The Panthers really need another corner, even with investments in Ross Cockrell, Cre’Von Leblanc, and Trumaine Brock. Adebo is a tall, physical outside corner that gives the Panthers another option in coverage.
Third Round: Justin Jefferson, Wide Receiver, LSU
Justin Jefferson might fall in a loaded wide-receiver class. Standing at 6-foot-3 at almost 200 pounds, he has the height to become an X-receiver. Jefferson has over 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns as one of Joe Burrow’s top targets. He’s a threat outside and could have his stock rise, depending on how he tests at the combine.
Round Four: Najee Harris, Running Back, Alabama
Najee Harris is a powerful runner. He weighs nearly 230 pounds and could be the perfect compliment for Christian McCaffrey. Harris is just pure power and could be used in short situations. A backfield that has Harris, McCaffrey, and Cam Newton would just be so, so fun.
The rest: Jake Hanson (iOL, Oregon, R5), Terence Steele (OL, Texas Tech, R6), and Eric Stokes (CB, Georgia, R7) all provide depth for their positions and, in all likelihood, will not play much.
FINAL DEPTH CHART
The quarterback position will be one to watch for the Panthers. I did not address it, because frankly, it does not need to be addressed. Cam Newton is a stellar quarterback and should absolutely be given a chance to thrive when fully healthy.
In this simulation, I invested over $100 million and three draft picks on the offensive and defensive line. The Panthers desperately need to get better up front (both protecting Cam Newton and stopping the run) and this is my way of doing that. The defense HAS to be better if Carolina would like to make a playoff run, and it all starts upfront.
The firepower of an offense led by Cam Newton with surrounding pieces like DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, Justin Jefferson, and Christian McCaffrey is exciting — especially if a head coaching candidate such as Eric Bieniemy comes to the Panthers.
This simulation is a bit unrealistic, I know. But that’s the fun in it.