Panthers Offseason Preview: Morgan and Canales head into first offseason with some glaring needs

By Zach Goins

March 6, 2024

Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure

With the NFL season coming to a close last month and the Carolina Panthers new coaching staff and front office cemented, it’s time to turn the attention to the offseason. 

It’s no secret Dave Canales has a lot to do ahead of his first new NFL season as a head coach. The former Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator was hired in January to take over as the Panthers seventh head coach (excluding interim coaches) in franchise history, replacing Frank Reich who was fired after a 1-10 start last season. 

Dave Canales enters his first offseason as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure

Canales has hit the ground running alongside new general manager (and former Panthers linebacker) Dan Morgan, as the two have assembled a new offensive staff, attended the Senior Bowl, and the NFL Scouting Combine.

One advantage Canales has in Carolina is a fully intact defensive coaching staff. After the 2023 Panthers defense ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (293.9) and third in passing defense, the Panthers opted to retain all of the coaches from last year’s team, led by defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. Canales hired Brad Idzik to lead the offense and Tracy Smith for special teams, both of whom worked with Canales in both Tampa Bay and Seattle.

Now, with the foundation set, it’s time for Canales and company to get to work. Here’s what’s on their schedule.

NFL Scouting Combine 

The entire league locked in on Indianapolis to get a look at all the hottest prospects in this year’s draft. For a first-year coach, the combine (and subsequent draft) are all about building towards the future. For four days, athletes at all positions went through drills and testing to prove to NFL teams why they are worthy of a draft pick in April. 

Carolina has quite a bit of building to do, particularly at wide receiver. They invested in a franchise quarterback last year with the first-overall pick, now they need to give him a weapon or two. The Panthers leading receiver last year was a 34-year-old Adam Thielen, who very much proved he’s still got it, but Bryce Young will need some more threats down the field if he’s expected to grow in 2024.

While not as flashy as wide receivers, other keys to Young’s success will be found along the offensive line and at tight end. 

Panthers will need to improve offensive line and wide receiver position to help Bryce Young. Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure

NFL Free Agency (March 13)

Before the draft, the Panthers will have a chance to find some of those weapons in free agency. Beginning March 13, players no longer under contract with their current teams will hit the market. 

The biggest question mark for Carolina in free agency this year is Brian Burns. The edge rusher was set to be a free agent until the Panthers used the franchise tag to lock him in for another year. However, the Panthers used the non-exclusive franchise tag, which allows Burns to continue to negotiate with other teams, but should a team make an offer to sign Burns, Carolina would have the opportunity to match the offer. If the Panthers choose not to match, Burns’s new squad would have to send Carolina two first-round draft picks as compensation. 

The Panthers signed Brian Burns to the non-exclusive franchise tag. Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure

Alongside Burns, linebacker Frankie Luvu is a high priority free agent, seen by many as the top linebacker to potentially hit the market this offseason. However, Morgan has made it clear the Panthers have every intention of striking a deal with Luvu to keep him in Carolina. 

Other notable Panthers set to become unrestricted free agents include edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos, safety Jeremy Chinn, and wide receiver DJ Chark.

Jeremy Chinn is one of the many free agents the Panthers will need to make a decision on during the offseason. Photo: Alex Cason / CLTure

As far as potential targets go, expect Carolina to address those same positions of need: wide receiver, offensive line, and tight end, as well as the defensive line and secondary.

The wide receiver market is relatively thin this year, but potential fits include Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd, Calvin Ridley (Jaguars) and Marquise Brown of the Cardinals.

Offseason Workouts (April 1)

Once the 2024 Panthers begin to take form with new additions, the team is able to get together and start their workouts. Clubs that hired a new head coach after the end of the 2023 regular season (like the Panthers), may begin offseason workout programs on April 1, while teams with returning staffs begin April 15. 

These workouts are “voluntary” and take place in three phases, the first of which consists of two weeks of team meetings, strength and conditioning, and rehab workouts. The next three weeks feature on-field workouts like individual and group drills, as well as walk-throughs. The third and final phase is made up of 10 days of OTAs (organized team activities) spread across four weeks, which include 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, but no live contact. 

For a team like the Panthers diving headfirst into a new coach’s scheme, these workouts will be integral to setting the foundation before the preseason. 

NFL Draft (April 25-27)

The NFL Draft is significantly less exciting when your team doesn’t have a first-round pick. The Panthers of course gave up this year’s top pick (which would have been No. 1 overall) last season to snag Young. 

What the Panthers do have are the first picks in the second and third round, as well as a fourth-rounder, two fifth-rounders, and one in the sixth.

Second-round speculation this far out from the Draft is difficult, considering so much will change with each team’s needs through free agency. Still, for the Panthers, the needs remain the same: wide receivers and offensive linemen.

When it comes to receivers at No. 33, quite a few names are in the mix, like Keon Coleman (Florida State), Adonai Mitchell (Texas), Ladd McConkey (Georgia) and Troy Franklin (Oregon), and Xavier Legette (South Carolina), among others. If Carolina opts to focus on the offensive line, Troy Fautanu (Washington), Tyler Guyton (Oklahoma), and Jordan Morgan (Arizona) are a few tackles that might be available at the top of the second round.  

Rookie Mini Camp (May 3-6 or May 10-13)

After all is said and done at the Draft in Detroit, the newly selected Panthers will report to Charlotte to make their first impressions. The three-day program gives rookies a chance to meet with their new teammates, dive into their new playbooks, and get accustomed to life in the NFL. 

Dan Morgan heads into his first offseason as President of Football Operations and General Manager of the Carolina Panthers. Photo: Alex Cason

For the third time in five years, hopes are renewed for the Carolina Panthers, with a brand new head coach and a clean slate. Canales seems better suited for success than either of his predecessors, inheriting the foundations of a team on the upswing– from a first-overall pick under center to a top defense with a returning coaching staff. The next few months will be key to determining the success of the 2024 Panthers.

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