Parting ways with Munnerlyn and Adams less about money and more about direction

The Carolina Panthers announced two roster moves today that freed only minor salary cap space but make a significant statement about the Panthers defense moving forward when they released Captain Munnerlyn after a two year reunion and informed veteran Mike Adams, who turns 38 next month, that defensive plans for 2019 didn’t involve him.

Neither of these moves were all that surprising. Adams, after having a decent 2018 season, symbolized a factor that so quickly sneaked up on last year’s Panthers defense—they got old. Interestingly, none of the older vets like Adams, Peppers, or Thomas Davis individually degraded the unit. Adams’s 2018 was statistically more productive than the previous season. TD graded out decently according to PFF, and Peppers played far more snaps than the Panthers should have ever asked.

Cutting Munnerlyn, who isn’t a spring chicken, was expected. Munnerlyn never found solid footing in his two-year reunion with the Panthers. Munnerlyn sparred with Carolina's coaching staff in 2017 after receiving diminished playing time in a system that featured three linebackers even when they were in a “nickel” package. Munnerlyn was open about his dissatisfaction but seemingly re-ingratiated himself with the coaching staff heading into last season. Sadly, Munnerlyn’s larger defensive role last season spotlighted more poor play than good. A prideful Munnerlyn defended his play and, while Carolina did ask him to play outside corner when injury struck, he wasn’t all that good at any position.

Some wondered if Munnerlyn would be a post-June 1st cut, which would effectively cut him from the roster and would have saved 4-million against the salary cap in 2020. Carolina, however, opted to eat three million in dead money to free up the roster spot and save two million in cap space this season. Making the move now does clear a little room but really signals that the Panthers hope to either develop Corn Elder (5th-RD of 2017 draft selection) or look to free agency and/or the draft for a new look. Some believe Ross Cockrell, who spent all of 2018 on IR with a leg injury, could contribute to a secondary that has some emergent players in James Bradberry and Donte Jackson.

Just weeks ago, Carolina signed Eric Reid to a 3-year contract only days before he reached a settlement with the NFL over an ongoing collusion lawsuit. The signing made a strong statement about Carolina’s defensive approach that was only reinforced by today’s news. Carolina expects Reid to play a leadership role in a defensive secondary that has some young potential but also some lingering questions marks at free safety, nickel corner, and in overall depth. Shedding Adams and Munnerlyn turns the defensive backfield over to Reid until Jackson fulfills all that potential he flashed in his rookie season. Unless Carolina invests highly in the draft a rangy free safety to pair alongside Reid, he has to take the lead as a younger player like Rashaan Gaulden matures into a reliable starter.

Carolina got old quickly last season and they look to be quickly getting young this offseason.

By Tony Dunn
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