As we all probably know, this season is terribly important for Carolina. Either this season we will make noise and break the one winning, one losing season curse, or we will continue it. My money's on the former, but it has been for a while. Supposing we win the Super Bowl, what will our options be after the season? What if we struggle? Here's the list of free agents whose contract expires after this season (courtesy of Walterfootball.com)
Matt Moore (RFA)
Kenneth Moore (ERFA)
Nick Hayden (ERFA)
C.J. Wilson (RFA)
Qinton Teal (RFA)
As you can see that's quite a list, here are some other notables whose contract expires in two years.
Now that list isn't quite so bad, but Kalil, Johnson, D-Will, and Kemo are integral parts of the team. Read on
First off I can shorten the first list, I don't think Teal or Moore will make the roster. I also think Peppers will sign an extension soon, so you can take him off the list. Now this is where it starts to get tricky and the if's come into play. King will be re-signed if Rosario/Barnidge don't show enough, if either shows they can be as good a blocker or close to that, he's out the door. Salley will be re-signed, he's a top backup. I think Moose will retire, so there will be no need to re-sign him, but that does leave a weakness at WR, more on that later. If Moore shows well in this preseason, we slap a tender on him, same for Wilson if he plays well this season. Depending on how well Moore does, we probably re-sign McCown to be a veteran backup, unless Moore lights the world on fire during preseason. Anderson is just a ST linebacker, he gets the axe and we bring in a replacement in either the draft or free agency. Hayden isn't tendered, and now we get to the really hard part. Vincent, Brayton, Davis, and Marshall, who to keep. Davis takes priority, maybe even the franchise tag, as for Brayton, it all depends on how well he and the rest of the DE's do. If he does well this season, Johnson doesn't improve by a lot or regresses, and Brown is a rookie, Brayton could be re-signed. More likely (and appealing) is Brown does well, like Mark Anderson a few years back, and Johnson improves. Brayton gets the axe, and we have Pep, Brown and Johnson at DE. Now, with Marshall, Vincent and Wilson both entering FA, we get a tricky question. But it gets easier. If Marshall struggles and Wilson improves, we keep Vincent and Wilson. If Duke Robinson plays well in time alloted by injury and Marshall doesn't struggle like last year, we hedge our bets on the youngster and send Vincent packing. I think the latter happens, and if so, here are our losses.
Hayden (not tendered as an ERFA)
Now lets look at our draft needs
Kemo is a free agent next season, and neither him nor Lewis are getting younger. This needs to be addressed soon. Irvin was a decent player in rotation, but we need a starter, someone like Kris Jenkins, without the attitude.
Jarret and Carter, the two prime candidates to replace Moose, have never started before in the NFL. An insurance policy is needed.
Diggs is solid, but could be upgraded, as I think he will be cut sometime in the next two years. Either Connor or Johnson will step in, or someone we draft or sign will. We need a St linebacker anyway, so this is a need.
Jake isn't getting any younger. The FO will probably pick a developmental prospect late in the draft in case either of the 3 backups doesn't work out.
Now I realize it is entirely too early to do a mock, but here are my rough predictions
#1 Terrence Cody, DT Alabama
Carolina trades back into the late first, nabbing a monstruous DT to replace Kemo in stuffing the run.
#2 Mark Herzlich, OLB BC
With their second round pick, Carolina picks up Mark Herzlich, who I think will fall due to the cancer in his leg. He won't be the first Panthers linebacker with a serious illness, and look how the others turned out.
#3 DE/DT Will Tuakafu, Oregon
Another Duck, Tuakafu provides a solid inside rotation that can stop the run and collapse the pocket, ideally.
#4 Jacoby Ford, WR Clemson
With their next pick in the fifth round after trading their fourth rounder away for Cody, the Panthers nab Ford, a burner they hope can eventually replace Smith.
With their two seventh rounders, the Panthers nab a guard for depth, and QB Rusty Smith from FAU to develop as hopefully a good backup later on down the road.
Now keep in mind, a lot will change between now and when these events take place. So take this with a grain of salt, maybe two, and enjoy. : )