1) Will Carolina sign Josh Norman sign to a long-term deal or stick with franchise tag only?
The Panthers have already signaled they will franchise tag Josh Norman. The question is will they be able to reach a long-term deal before the season starts or will they end up renting the emerging star for a season? It, however, will be hard for Norman to replicate this year’s dominant performance. Dave Gettleman, who doesn’t fully believe in the idea of a “shutdown” corner, may be hoping that Norman slips a little in 2016, giving the Panthers more bargaining power. If Norman does have another dominant year, it’s likely Gettleman wouldn’t be willing to commit to a blockbuster deal for a position he doesn't think to be the most important and with a player who is brash and sometimes stubborn. Norman is going to want a career deal, and I can’t imagine he’ll be happy playing under the franchise tag risking injury or potentially diminishing his current value.
2) Will Carolina look to extend Kawann Short now or wait until 2017?
Short should be Carolina’s top priority. Not only did Short have a breakout year (11 sacks, 3 FF, 2 FR), both he and Star Lotulelei have been a real source of defensive strength for this team since being drafted in 2012. As a first round pick, Carolina has another year before they have to work on Star’s contract. Given Dave Gettleman’s propensity for “hog mollies,” I wouldn’t be surprised to see him aggressively pursue a contract extension with Short, even if it’s at Josh Norman’s expense.
3) Will Carolina part ways with Charles Johnson or Jared Allen, or both?
Jared Allen will make 8.5 million dollars if he remains a Panther in 2016. With Allen’s current contract, Carolina can cut him without financial penalty. He’s 34 years old and, although he was he was helpful to Carolina’s front, his production was average. It’s hard seeing him go 16+ games in a starting capacity, and even harder seeing Carolina keep him with that cap figure.
Charles Johnson’s status seems even less likely. If he were to return, he’d make 14 million on the heels of a season where he notched only 4 sacks (3 of those were in the postseason). There’s only 4 million in dead money if Carolina were to cut Johnson. Keeping him is a huge expense for marginal production. It’s unlikely he will be in Carolina without a substantial restructure. Big Money will have to take a pay cut or be cut.
4) Will Carolina bring in a free agent to replenish the pass-rush?
Gettleman’s football mantra is run the ball, stop the run, and rush the passer. Johnson’s limited production and recurrent injuries signal Carolina will need to invest in a defensive end. Kony Ealy may have had a great Super Bowl performance and a season showing signs he could be an impact player, but Gettleman won’t rest Carolina's future at defensive end on Ealy alone. Even adding a high-grade draft pick on the edge doesn’t fit Gettleman’s modus operandi.
Investing in an established pass-rusher in free agency is an expense Gettleman seems justifiable. Olivier Vernon (MIA), Robert Ayers (NYG), Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG), and Mario Williams are all vets who could be under consideration. Gettleman’s New York connections may help him work out a value deal with JPP, whose stock is on a four-finger discount.
5) Will Carolina seek to bolster the offensive line through free agency, the draft, or both?
Michael Oher played better than most expected in his first year as a Panther. He’s not the best run-blocker, but Carolina needs him to be a starter for at least another year. Gettleman could be hoping 4th-round selection Daryl Williams could grow into a future left tackle. Williams, who looked promising at right tackle, showed some of the athleticism associated with left tackles. This still shouldn't stop Carolina from looking for a mid-round project, very similar to Williams, who they can groom under Oher.
Mike Remmers took a beating late in the season, and Von Miller made easy work of him in the Super Bowl. Still, Remmers was a tremendous asset to Carolina over the last two seasons. His struggles late in the season indicate, however, he may be better suited in a supportive role. I expect Remmers to be back, but with Gettleman making it clear with his re-signing that he’ll need to earn his spot in the rotation.
6) Is Tre Boston the answer a strong safety?
Carolina’s defense played much faster when Tre’ Boston was in during Roman Harper’s absence. The second-year player saw more playing time in the Super Bowl as Harper showed he has trouble keeping up in pass-coverage. Boston has shown that he can play and has solid football instincts, but he’s emotional and a little penalty-prone. Having an elite strong safety would help improve a team which is already pretty stout up the middle. It’s a position Carolina won’t leave alone, however, it may not be a top priority in free agency or the draft.
7) Is there a future in Carolina for Philly Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Peanut Tillman, and Roman Harper with the Panthers?
- Brown will be a Panther. Aside from a shaky start, Brown has helped this team and been a pleasant surprise for an URFA. He’s solid route-runner and has nice straight line speed. His familiarity with the system will earn him a 1-yr contract regardless, but his role in that offense will likely lessen.
- Cotchery will likely retire. It’s sad his final game was one highlighted by dropped passes, but Carolina can void the final years of his contract without financial penalty. The old vet will have trouble making a Panthers final roster where Kelvin Benjamin is returning, Ted Ginn is happy, and Carolina still shows some desire to keep Stephen Hill around.
- Harper has played virtually for free over the last two years. He’s status is kind of tricking given Carolina’s situation. It wouldn’t be bad to have a veteran presence at strong safety, even if it was in just a supportive role. Harper won’t likely entertain many offers outside of Carolina, so he may just continue to play for the veteran's minimum.
- Tillman was a nice fit in Carolina. The players respected him, the coaches appreciated him, and was important to Carolina’s defense prior to his injury. He recently noted his desire to return to the Panthers, but at his age with such a significant injury mid-way through the season, and Carolina can only count on Peanut but so much.
What questions are on your mind? Drop them in the comments section below.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
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