When Dave Gettleman stated that Carolina would no longer be shopping at the Dollar Store as they did in 2014, fans became excited about the potential prospect of landing a real free agent in Carolina. It’s not out of the question, but the Panthers don’t have piles of money laying around by any means either; Greg Hardy is sitting on that one. Carolina, however, isn’t in the position that they were last year--tons of roster needs with only a molehill of cash to acquire them. This year, Carolina has a small burial mound, hopefully with all those old contracts underneath, to get some quality guys to fill some much needed holes. Last year, Carolina was stretched thin, lots of holes with little money. This year, they are stretched, but not as thin--some holes and some money.
Carolina’s most pressing needs are clearly offensive. Darin Gantt, from ProFootBallTalk.com, told C3 he expects Panthers GM Dave Gettleman to work deliberately to improve Carolina’s offense during a recent C3 Podcast. Right now Carolina has an estimated 12 million dollars in cap space to work with. This figure is based on an $11 million dollar cap increase from 2014 to 2015. Money is tight, but expect for this figure to noticeably increase as Gettleman works out some contract restructures and makes some cuts to pad the bank account a bit.
So if Carolina isn’t shopping at the Dollar Store, who can they afford? $12 million isn’t a tremendous amount to work with, and even if this figure increased by 30%, it’s not like the Panthers will be shopping at Macy’s.
Carolina, however, doesn't’ need to spend a ton, they just need to spend strategically. Consolidating these funds on a couple of guys that Gettleman believes will surely improve the roster will go a lot further than picking through the yard sale items in hopes of furnishing an entire house with working appliances.
Michael Crabtree (SF) estimated 4 million per
Would you be mad bro? Not at all. Crabtree is really an ideal acquisition. He has size, and has got enough speed to keep defenses more than honest. Some have question his hands. He had 7 drops on 108 targets, making for a 6.5% drop rate. Crabtree’s production also dropped significantly in 2014. San Francisco hasn’t been a breeding ground for receive success for a while, so this declined production shouldn’t fall entirely on Crabtree. Colin Kaepernick isn’t the most accurate of passers, and there are a lot of strong receiver personalities competing for his attention as well.
Crabtree isn’t bad, and from the measurables alone he’d be a helpful asset. He’d free up space for Philly Brown and draw attention away from KB. Expect for him to find a second life if he lands in Carolina.
Estimated 3 million per
- Cecil Shorts III (Jax)
- Denarius Moore (Oak)
- Eddie Royal (SD)
- Wes Welker (Den)
Gettleman has a knack for finding guys that produce on the cheap. All of these guys will be relatively cheap, but fit will play a big role in whom Carolina will likely shop. Moore’s skillset is a little too much like Philly Brown, so there’s no reason to add him when the chemistry between Cam and Philly is as good as it is. Welker is old, and his success certainly hasn’t been diminished from playing with two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
On the bubble:
The two best fits with the highest upside are Royal and Shorts. Royal is a veteran who offers a special teams presence, but by this point in his career you think you know what you are getting--nothing bad, but nothing great.
Shorts has the higher upside. He's suffered in Jacksonville, through injury and just being in Jacksonville. When healthy, he puts ups numbers. Shorts, given a healthy season, could emerge as a viable #2 option in Carolina. Since he is coming out of Jacksonville and has had a problem with injuries as of late, he shouldn't command a ton of money. This might be the type of diamond deal Gettleman is looking for.
A Good Stretch
Torrey Smith estimated 7 million per
Smith would be a great fit. He has the speed and skillset that can stretch the field, making a great compliment for Kelvin Benjamin. Philly Brown and Jerricho Cotchery could work more in the slot, and the former providing a deep threat that alongside of Smith could create additional space for KB. The hard part about landing Smith is that someone else, like the Seahawks, could offer one more dollar than Carolina can. It will be hard to win this battle, and it’s not clear that Smith is dominant enough to enter a bidding war with a team that has more financial resources.
Stretching Out of Reach:
- Jeremy Maclin
- Randall Cobb
Both would be sexy, but neither are likely. Maclin will be expensive; OvertheCap.com's Jason Fitzgerald notes, that he has “a first round draft pedigree, but can also point to being productive with non-elite quarterbacks in Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles.” Maclin will likely command the most money outside of Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas.
Cobb may be a dollar or two cheaper, but he is a versatile option that teams with money to spend will likely spend it on. Not to mention, Green Bay may just figure out a way to hold onto him.
Carolina will look to upgrade the offense this offseason. Look for Gettleman to work through free agency and the draft. Expecting one or the other to solve the problem alone, however, is unlikely. Look for a solid free agency acquisition alongside of an important addition through the draft.
*Contract estimates gathered from SportingNews.com
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow him on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles