After a sub-par 2018 season, Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney knew he had some work to do. At this point in the offseason, Hurney has made strides to improve the team.
It’s no secret that 2018 was a disappointment for Carolina. The Panthers started the season strong by going 6-2, but several injuries and other unforeseen issues caused them to drop seven of their last eight games.
Owner David Tepper decided to stick with Head Coach Ron Rivera and General Manager Marty Hurney, even after going 7-9. Still, Hurney and Rivera are likely on the hot seat and will need to build this roster into a winner…..now. That building has already begun.
On March 14, Marty Hurney shocked the Carolinas–and possibly the NFL world–by signing the number one free agent center, Matt Paradis, to a three-year contract. Then, in another surprising move, free agent offensive tackle Daryl Williams re-signed with Carolina on a one year, $6 million “prove it” deal. While there was plenty of backlash about Williams re-signing, there’s no denying that it’s a steal at that price tag. These moves prove that Carolina is serious about protecting superstar quarterback Cam Newton.
After that, many thought Marty Hurney was finished….but he wasn’t. Hurney made the decision that afternoon to cut left tackle Matt Kalil, who didn’t take a regular season snap last year due to injury. Fans rejoiced. It had been a long two years for Panthers fans in regards to Kalil. He struggled mightily in the first half of his first season; he didn’t even take a single snap in his sophomore season due to a right knee injury. With this move, Carolina gains around $7 million in cap space, which they get on June first. At that point, they will have between $12-13 million. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it seems like Hurney is not done yet.
If Hurney and Rivera are in a win-now mode to save their jobs, they’re going to need more cap room. If Carolina restructures Kawann Short’s contract, that would add another $5 million to the 2019 salary cap. That money could go a long way in bringing another key free agent to Carolina. They could also cut Da’Norris Searcy and Torrey Smith, saving $2.9 million and $5 million respectively. Carolina has said they aren’t cutting Smith, but that could change based on who is available.
Even if the Panthers don’t make those adjustments, they still need to sign a safety to play beside Eric Reid. There are several safeties they could sign to deals that fit their salary cap constraints. They could sign a safety now and go over the cap, and once the money from Kalil’s contract is added they would be back in the clear.
One safety they may look at is Tre Boston, who was originally drafted by Carolina. The 26-year-old has played well since leaving in free agency after the 2016 season. As a matter of fact, it almost makes too much sense to bring him back. There are a few other safeties available, and one notable name is Eric Berry. Berry has only played three games in the last two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, so he could look to sign a one or two year “prove-it” deal. Trai Turner has tried to recruit Berry to Carolina in the past, and shortly after Berry changed his Twitter background to Panther blue. Usually, these things mean nothing, but sometimes they are subtle hints to tip people about their next move. No matter who it is, Carolina will need to fill the void at safety.
Hurney could look to trade a pick or a high-potential player for a proven player. For example, they could trade Vernon Butler and a fifth-round pick to San Francisco for Solomon Thomas. There are a lot of players that are rumored to be on the trade block, and Carolina will exhaust every possible avenue to make this roster better. It seems like at this point, everything is on the table.
With Hurney and Rivera likely in win-now mode, fans could see them make a splash in the draft, too. While it would be too costly for Carolina to trade up from pick 16, there are a lot of different things Hurney could do to add draft picks for this year. They could trade back and gain an extra pick or two, or they could trade their second and extra third to move back up into the late first round. They could also trade future assets to gain a late first or second round pick. There is a lot of belief within the fan base that something like this will happen based on Hurney and Rivera trying to prove to David Tepper that they’re serious about winning.
The top draft names surrounding the Panthers are Clelin Ferrell, Andre Dillard, Brian Burns, Devin Bush, and Christian Wilkins. Imagine taking one of those players at pick 16, and then trading to move back into the first to take one of the remaining players. Getting Ferrell and Dillard, for example, would change this team’s fortune immediately. Even better, both players would have that fifth-year option on their contracts, due to the fact that they’re first-round picks.
It doesn’t stop there. Carolina will also have to be very active in trying to get the top undrafted free agents to improve the roster and depth even further.
Thus far, Hurney has made a lot of solid moves during this offseason, and seems to have more up his sleeve. He has definitely done a lot of good and has earned the trust of the majority of the fan base. Look for Carolina to continue making moves during this offseason, to turn this team around.