Now Carolina has a big void to fill, as Byron Bell and Nate Chandler are the only tackles left on roster, and neither can play the position even close to the level that Gross maintained in his decorated career. Gettleman's preached that "hog mollies" win football games, and now it appears he needs to bring one in to insure consistency and adequacy at the position. Both tackle positions are question marks, but left tackle really needs to be addressed. Looking to free agency here are some options:
It appears the Kansas City Chiefs are going to allow Brandon Albert to walk in free agency. He's already been tagged in 2013, so a new tag would merit an increase to 120% on his current 9.828 million dollar cap hit. He won't be a cheap signing, that's for sure. However, Albert's talents would be a great fit for us here in Carolina. He played on an offense that broke 35 points in five of it's last seven games, and helped anchor a line that put Jamaal Charles up there as one of the most valuable players in the league.
Albert would come in and start right away, regardless of what Carolina decided to do in the draft. Byron Bell may be allowed to start again at right tackle should that position need to be addressed, but a signing like Albert would give Carolina time to truly find a replacement for Gross in the future. However, his current pacing for his contract pay would likely indicate that the Panthers aren't going to bring back Greg Hardy, whose contract needs to be factored in to any big name signings made this offseason.
Collins is another guy who would immediately address the left tackle position and almost definitely sure it up for a few years. However, Collins may not command the kind of price tag that Albert will. Collins was stellar in pass protection for the Cincinatti Bengals, whose passing attack was noticeably improved this season. However, Collins has also never started a full season on the offensive line, only starting 25 of 59 career games.
Collins is still a huge upgrade over Bell or Chandler (though it's not hard to top them in pass protection), but his ability to stay on the field is a little concerning. Of the past three seasons, Collins has only recorded 9 starts and has missed 21 games. So this may be a talking point for any contract he gets, but in the current drought of offensive lineman, he will easily find a job. It will depend on how confident Gettleman is in our roster, and in the draft.
A lot of fans tend to shy away from this guy. He can be labeled as overrated and they wouldn't be wrong. He had issues in Baltimore last season, and may be more of a right tackle fit here in Carolina. But one advantage here is that Oher hasn't missed a game since entering the league, and provides some valuable experience as a left tackle. In addition, Oher's been to a Super Bowl and brings a bit of big game experience to a line that is getting younger and younger each season.
The Ravens are looking to try and retain Eugene Monroe for the long haul, so one thing going here is there probably won't be an offer on the table from the Ravens that could knock Oher's price up. Even if he came in to start as a right tackle, he's an upgrade over Bell, who's struggled every year at adapting to the speed of the game and athleticism of defenders. Oher might be a player whom Carolina can sign without taking too much of a hit. Oher's been a below average starter with Baltimore, and could be in line for a one year "prove it" deal, which we know as Dave Gettleman's modus operandi.
Oakland appears to be fighting hard to get this guy back, and with good reason. He's ranked as NFL.com's 15th ranked free agent (all positions) and has quietly been a great offensive tackle for Oakland. It's possible Oakland resigns him, as they have quite a bit of cap space to work with. But a team like Oakland has so many needs to be addressed, including resigning their own Lamarr Houston and improving their entire defense. If Veldheer's still around, he should be considered.
Veldheer's only 26, and could be a candidate for a long term deal here in Carolina. He's never had off-field issues, and he doesn't have a terrible injury history (though he only played in 5 games in 2013). He'd immediately come in and start at left tackle, but again this kind of signing pretty much kisses any chance of Hardy being around goodbye. That or Hardy's contract crutches the Panthers from making any other moves in free agency.
I have confidence that Gettleman will quickly address the offensive line. It was the Panthers' biggest crutch in 2013, and losing Gross to retirement and Bruce Campbell to free agency creates urgency. Though we need to calm down and breathe here. Gettleman may not make any splash signings, and may wait for free agency bidding to slow down a bit to pick the scraps for a one year mercenary. He's preached BPA in the draft and may leave opportunity for Carolina to explore the draft for a replacement. But have faith Panther fans. We saw Gettleman quickly address many needs last offseason, and he's got some cap to work with. We will see how he works his magic this time around.