The Carolina Panthers tossed their hat into the free agency ring, somewhat unexpectedly today, with the acquisition of Dontari Poe. The 6’3/346 lbs All-Pro defensive tackle signed a 3 yr-27 million dollar contract with the Carolina Panthers.
Poe wasn’t a name that anyone predicted the Panthers to pursue. Few believed Carolina would make a free agency move this big, and it’s hard to believe anyone expected that, if they did, it would be the acquisition of blue-chip defensive tackle. Sure, Star Lotulelei’s departure left a void to be filled, but all signals suggested that they weren’t interested in sinking big money into the position.
When asked about the ability to re-sign either Andrew Norwell or Star Lotulelei to a big contract, GM Marty Hurney repeatedly referenced that some consideration has to be given to just how much cap space the organization can allocate to one position group. Carolina had already paid Trai Turner and Kawann Short, suggesting Hurney wasn’t comfortable doubling-down financially at these positions. Instead, Hurney implied that Carolina would call on some of those early-round draft investments, like Vernon Butler, to play larger roles in 2017.
All eyes have been on Carolina’s need to acquire a wide receiver and safety in free agency, and even that desire seemed thwarted by Carolina’s limited cap-space after resigning Graham Gano and trading for Torrey Smith. Hurney made some bolder moves, however, over the past two days that have fans excited about this more aggressive strategy than expected.
For the Carolina crowd... doubtful the Panthers are saving their money to sign a big name. They don't have money.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) March 13, 2018
$19 million to find a starting DE, starting S, QB2, TE2, CB depth and more.
Hurney may have learned something from his previous stint as Carolina’s General Manager and his subsequent observation of the team’s success in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Some of what instigated owner Jerry Richardson’s firing of Hurney in 2012 surrounded Carolina’s porous defensive line that required Carolina to double-dip at defensive tackle in the 2013 draft, grabbing Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. Carolina’s defensive success from 2013-2015 stemmed from a stingy run defense and a defensive front that won with a four-man rush. At the highest moment of Hurney’s tenure as GM, in 2004, Carolina fielded similar personnel with Kris Jenkins and Brensin Buckner.
Poe’s isn’t simply a fill for Lotulelei, he’s an upgrade. Despite being in the league for a year longer than Star, he’s a year younger. He’s not past his prime either. Quite the opposite, Poe may just be settling into a sweet spot of his career.
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Star has always been one of those players people argued was underappreciated because what he contributed, primarily run-stopping and often occupying two offensive blockers to free other players on the line. His value, they contend, didn’t fully show on the stat line. It’s also the skillset that many argue Vernon Butler can’t fully replicate either. Poe, however, can. He also brings an added ability to be a disrupter behind the line of scrimmage, something Star didn’t bring to the field as much.
Signing Poe was a much bigger splash than we all expected the Panther to make this offseason. Pair this with the acquisition of Bashaud Breeland, and Carolina’s defense quickly went from little suspect to not far from setup to be extremely good. Some have even suggested that this addition will help keep Kuechly clean and maybe even lengthen a career that has been scarily at risk from head injuries.
By Tony Dunn
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