March 12, 2018
As we outlined in our 2017 season recap, the Carolina Panthers’ top priority this off-season is simple: get more weapons around Cam Newton. With a recent string of releases, which included high profile players Jonathan Stewart and Charles Johnson, the Panthers now have an assortment of needs that will have to addressed during free agency as well as the draft. In spite of the addition of Torrey Smith, the team is still needs quality receivers and the lack of depth at safety is absolutely startling. On top of that, they could use an edge rusher (regardless of whether or not Julius Peppers comes back), running back and cornerback.
Here are a few names that Panthers should pursue to help fill those needs:
Mike Mitchell, Safety: Panthers fans should be familiar with Mitchell, who played in Carolina for the 2013 season. Mitchell had a breakout year with the team, recording 3.5 sacks and 4 interceptions, both of which remain career highs. While Pittsburgh will likely try to re-sign Mitchell, the Panthers would be smart to try and get the nine-year veteran back to the Queen City. Mitchell is a hard-hitting ball hawk who could also provide a boost in run defense. While he wouldn’t be the long-term solution the Panthers need at safety, Mitchell would be a valuable signing to a currently desolate secondary.
Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver: Considering the amount of Clemson Tigers fans within the Panthers’ fan base, signing Watkins would be as popular as it is smart. Watkins’ 2017 season with the Rams was one of disappointment, as he only caught 39 passes for 593 yards. However, Watkins still showcased his incredible athleticism and elite speed, and his ability to create space between defenders is second to none. Watkins could flourish in Carolina if used properly in Norv Turner’s offense. He possesses an explosiveness that could be the deep-passing threat the Panthers have lacked since the departure of Ted Ginn.
Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver: While Robinson is a little more well rounded than Watkins, the fact that he is coming off an ACL tear would make him a riskier signing. However, if Robinson is able to fully recover and return to form, he would undoubtedly be a game changer; his breakout 2015 season boasted a remarkable 31 receptions of 20 yards or more. Robinson’s production waned in 2016, but that could easily be blamed on the inconsistent quarterback play in Jacksonville. With Cam Newton at the helm, Robinson could once again prove himself as a game changing receiver.
Alfred Morris, Running Back: One of the many tasks the Panthers must undertake this off-season is to find a replacement for Jonathan Stewart. While many believe they will use this year’s exceptional running back draft class to find one, it would be foolish to not even look at some of the options on the free agent market. Alfred Morris is a good running back who can still produce, as evidenced by what he was able to during his starts for the Dallas Cowboys last season. Morris finished the year averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and his 27-carry 127-yard performance against the Redskins showed that he can still play at a high level.
Malcolm Butler, Cornerback: Until Daryl Worley was traded earlier this week, it would not have made much sense for the Panthers to try and sign a big name cornerback, but now it seems logical. With the Richard Sherman sweepstakes ending before they could really even begin, the Panthers should now focus their attention on Malcolm Butler. While Butler will forever be known for his interception at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, the fact is that Butler is an absolutely stellar corner with eight interceptions and 50 pass deflections over his four-year run with New England. The Panthers now need a cornerback and Malcolm Butler would be a massive upgrade to one of the league’s most unreliable secondaries.
Kenny Vaccaro, Safety: Kenny Vaccaro isn’t a household name but he would be a great addition to the Panthers’ secondary, and someone that they could sign without having to break the bank. Vaccaro was drafted by the Saints in the first round of the 2013 Draft and, in spite of being a five-year veteran, already has 64 starts under his belt. Vaccaro is a bit inconsistent in coverage, but possesses raw athleticism and offers reliable tackling. His versatility could also benefit the Panthers, as he has experience at both the strong and free safety position. If the Panthers are going to use a high draft pick on a safety (which most are assuming), then Vaccaro would be a smart pickup. He’s experienced, adaptable and, most importantly, affordable.
Alex Okafor, Defensive End: With the departure of Charles Johnson, Carolina is in need of a pass rusher. Alex Okafor could be exactly what they need. While Okafor will likely end up resigning with the Saints, the Panthers unquestionably need to pursue him. Okafor was terrific for New Orleans last season, notching 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles before his season ended early due to an Achilles injury. Okafor is effective edge rusher who could be just what the Panthers are looking for to bolster their front seven.
Check out the full list of 2018 NFL Free Agents.