With all the talks around the Josh Norman hysteria the last few days, a lot of people are wondering if the Panthers defense will take a significant step back. As great of a season Norman had last year, the Panthers still have the draft and some money to play with now to help build it back.
Carolina has held a top ten ranked defense for three consecutive seasons, tied with only Seattle during that time for teams do so. In 2013 the Panthers ranked second behind the Seattle Seahawks. That team consisted of Captain Munnerlyn starting all 16 games with Melvin White, Josh Thomas, and Drayton Florence splitting starts on the other side. Even with this less talented secondary the Panthers finished ranked fifth in the NFL for net yards per attempt (The 2015 team finished second) So how did that 2013 secondary have success? Pass rush.
The Panthers defense, led by Charles Johnson (11) and Greg Hardy (15), finished first in the NFL in sacks with a total of 60. The success of constant pressure to the quarterback caused quarterbacks to release the ball quicker in turn allowing the corners less time to have to cover their receivers.
Last year things seemed to be a little of the opposite. The pass rush was inconsistent at times throughout the season and the talent in the secondary was better than years past. For perspective purposes, the 2015 team finished with 44 sacks on the season good for sixth in the NFL. Who finished first? The Super Bowl 50 champions Denver Broncos with 52.
The Panthers were able to bring back veteran Charles Johnson on a cap friendly deal after releasing him to avoid a cap hit. Young talent Kony Ealy looks poised for a breakout season after a MVP like performance in Super Bowl 50. Kaman Short was a problem for offensive lines up the middle during the season racking up 11 sacks. Outside of Ealy and Johnson though, the depth gets murky with Jared Allen's retirement.
With the rescinding of Normans franchise tag the Panthers now have $31 million dollars available in cap space, that's the fourth highest in the NFL. So don't rule out bringing in a veteran like Antonio Cromartie at corner. This extra money also opens up the long term signing of defensive tackles Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei, two key cogs of that defensive line inside.
Gettleman and Rivera's best work has still yet to come also in next weeks NFL draft. While Gettleman has stated they will draft best player available, that best player could end up being a defensive end, corner, and maybe even one of his favorite offensive tackles he's mentioned.
If the last few Super Bowl winners are any indication, having a good pass rush is pivotal to disrupting offenses timing. Much like what happened with the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.