It's been a quiet free agency for the Carolina Panthers thus far. Paying for their rash of 2011 signings left the coffers rather low and left Marty Hurney and company to work creatively with their signings, rather than haphazardly. We've seen some really solid moves from the organization thus far from bolstering the special teams, to creating competition at FS as well as the brilliant (albeit slightly head scratching) decision to sign Mike Tolbert.
As it stands we don't really have any potential FA news on the horizon other than a potential re-signing of TE Jeremy Shockey which could be in the cards. While bringing back Shockey would be a solid move, I think there's a better TE option on the market who could really bolster the Panthers' offense further and make them near unstoppable- I'm talking about signing former Indianapolis Colts TE Dallas Clark.
More after the jump
Like many I'm excited to see what Gary Barnidge can bring to the table, but to assume he'll be analogous to Shockey out of the gate is imparting a lot of faith on the former 5th round pick. The issue I have with the Olsen/Barnidge tandem is that they're both very similar tight ends; both are athletes first, linemen second who have great receiving skills, but mediocre blocking ability. On an offensive line that is currently slated to be pretty weak this could be a major Achilles heel for the offense.
There is a myth that Dallas Clark is not a good blocking TE. I believe this is promulgated by him playing on a mediocre offensive line and being asked to do a lot. The reality is that Clark was a quite exceptional pass blocker, in fact he was so good in Indianapolis that Pro Football Focus rated him the 5th best pass blocking TE in the NFL from 2008-2010. While some will point to a spotty injury history the last two years (seasons cut short by wrist and leg injuries respectively) I think it would be a little hypocritical given how 'injury prone' Shockey was before landing in Carolina.
I'll admit, at this stage Dallas Clark would be little more than a temporary band-aid to give the offense a boost while Gary Barnidge can work with Cam, and the organization can decide if he's the future #2, or whether they need a new one. Clark will be 33 by the time the 2012 season begins, but don't let the age dissuade you. Last season for the Colts he finished the season with 352 yards and 2 TDs in 10 starts, compared to Shockey's 455 and 4 TDs in 13 starts. It's also important to remember who Clark was working with under center.
Personally, I think Clark would be a great asset to the Panthers for the right price. I believe he's a better receiver and blocker than Jeremy Shockey, and he's not one to make waves in the locker room. Furthermore, he has worked with a deep passer like Peyton Manning and could impart wisdom on both Olsen and Barnidge to fine-tune their blocking abilities. Given the price would be almost identical for Clark and Shockey at this point I tend to think the former Indy TE would be the far better option.