With all of the focus on LT Jordan Gross and DE Julius Peppers the last couple weeks we can't forget the Panthers have some tough decisions by the end of the week. Here's a look at the players who may have donned their Panther uniform for the last time.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
• LB Donte Curry is a career special teams guy who has been decent, but certainly irreplaceable player for the Panthers. In all likelihood the team will look for a younger, cheaper alternative.
Curry is a physical specimen who played well on special teams. The point of saving money might be a good one though.
• C/G Geoff Hangartner is a quality backup lineman who started as much as the regular starters due to injuries up and down the line. If the Panthers re-sign Gross, then Hangartner will likely depart because there will be not starting spots open and he'll look to go somewhere he can start. He should command decent money in free agency.
I hate to see this key back-up depart but I think he is most likely gone.
• WR/KR Mark Jones was used on returns last year and was very reliable. The Panthers would certainly like to have him back but they won't overpay because Ryne Robinson and Jason Carter are returning from knee injuries and both could fill his role while also contributing as a receiver, something Jones rarely did.
Jones came on towards the end of the season and he was very reliable holding onto the ball. I can't say the same for Robinson or Carter. I hope they bring him back.
• LS Jason Kyle is one of those "old reliable" veterans who never makes a mistake on long snaps. The team will do what it can to bring him back, but Kyle will shop himself for the biggest offer. He should get some interest around the league.
You never hear about long-snappers until the screw up which is why Kyle might be worth the extra jack to keep around.
• OT Frank Omiyale was a backup tackle last season who started one game at left tackle due to an injury and played well. Granted, it was against Kansas City. Clearly, Omiyale would welcome a chance to go somewhere where he could have a real chance to compete for a starting job.
Other teams might say he can compete but he may very well not get a fair shake. The kid played well behind Gross when called on but may cost too much for a guy that backs up only one position: LT. I think its more important to re-sign this guy than this post is giving credit.
• LB Adam Seward desperately wants out of Carolina and will look to find a home in a 3-4 defense because he feels that suits his game.
I think it safe to say Seward is a goner.
• DT Darwin Walker is not the player he once was. He was inactive for Carolina's playoff game against Arizona (the Panthers went with inexperienced rookie Nick Hayden instead) and that decision had nothing to do with injuries. There are some who suspect Walker will hang it up.
Nothing to do with injuries? That's news to me since he was coming a ding to his shoulder. I thought he played pretty well but maybe not. I would think he would try to make the roster again if given the chance, again as a back-up.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
• LB James Anderson is a former t third-round pick who has contributed little other than on special teams. He may get the low tender.
If he's happy being a back-up/special teamer then keep him around. He knows the system.
• DT Gary Gibson was a backup tackle last year and could get the low tender from the Panthers. He went on IR late in the season with a hand injury.
Gibson played well prior to the injury so I bet they bring him back to compete with what will surely be a bevy of DT's competing in TC.
• TE Jeff King has been a three-year starter for the Panthers and he may get the first-round tender so others keep their hands off.
Darin Gantt thinks King is more likely to get a second round tender. What they decide could be the difference in whether he stays. Though King was used less in the passing game the kid upped his game blocking. I can't see the Panthers letting him go even if they over-pay a little.
• S Nate Salley hasn't played all that much but the Panthers still like his game and he should receive the low tender.
Salley's time to make an impression is running out. He may have already missed his window to start in the NFL. Besides, is he a SS or FS? He better make himself into a SS if ever plans to play in Carolina. Contrary to the above comment I wouldn't be surprised to see him leave.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
• DT Nick Hayden actually started toward the end of his rookie season in 2008 after getting cut in training camp. The team likes him and he'll be back.
I bet we see the big cheese head again in TC.
• DT J'Vonne Parker joined the team late in the season due to injuries. He'll probably be invited to camp to compete.
• CB C.J. Wilson is a guy the Panthers really like and he could wind up being the No. 3 or 4 cornerback in 2009. The team may cut Ken Lucas, which would allow Wilson to move up the depth chart. He's a former safety with good cover skills.
I'm most curious to see what the Panthers do with the CB position. If they cut Lucas can Richard Marshall move over from the nickel spot? If not how could they cut Lucas? Does anybody think Wilson is ready to start at CB in the NFL? I would be just a little nervous about that.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None