Carolina began positioning for free agency today by clearing $5.8 million in salary cap space with the of veterans Charles Johnson and Kurt Coleman. Johnson’s departure was expected. He’s turning 32 this season and his play has declined as to be expected from an 11-yr veteran at one of the most physically destructive positions of the game.
Coleman’s release is a bit more surprising. Releasing Coleman freed about $2.6 million in cap space, but it also removes the more reliable of options at safety on a unit that wasn’t Carolina’s strongest to begin. Over the last few years, Coleman has been the bright spot at a position that Carolina never committed to addressing.
Coleman, who was a rotational player before joining the Panthers, carved out a nice role as a starter. He thrived in 2015, recording 7 interceptions at free safety, but his statistical production has declined ever since. In 2016, Coleman played more strong safety as Carolina dealt with injury and an inability to find a good pairing in the defensive backfield. In 2017, Coleman moved back to free safety, but his performance didn’t return to previous form. Coleman failed to grab an interception on the season and missed some key plays that highlighted a secondary that seemed to get worse as the season went on. To his credit, Coleman missed four games with a knee injury. He was missed sorely, speaking a lot to the overall strength of the unit.
The surprise surrounding Coleman’s release does not surround arguments that he is an aging player who plays a fast position on a team that, according to Hurney, needs to get faster and more athletic. In a vacuum, it’s reasonable. The move, however, is more perplexing when considering the overall strength of the defense and secondary. Coleman may not have looked his best, but there aren’t many around him who did either.
Coleman’s release suggests Carolina will address the safety position aggressively this offseason. Mike Adams and Colin Jones are the only two safeties who have seen any significant playing time in the NFL. Adams is old as old can be and Jones isn’t a starter, leaving Carolina likely to grab a starting safety in free agency and one in the draft.
The good news is that safety is somewhat of a bargain position in free agency. Carolina could pursue a higher valued free-agent safety without breaking the bank as they would a higher-valued position. Whether that player is in free agency is a different story. Kenny Vaccaro may be one of the higher-end options, but even he hasn’t demonstrated enough as of late to warrant endless optimism.
Carolina’s roster moves today added to the team’s flexibility this offseason in their move to quickly get faster and better. The moves also required Carolina to get faster and better immediately at safety. It’s safe to declare, this is the beginning long-term overhaul.
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By Tony Dunn
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