Last season, we saw the unscheduled departures of Chris Gamble and James Anderson, two known veterans who we'd seen stellar play from in the past. In Chris Gamble's case, he was simply a cap casualty. The Panthers lost Chris Gamble early on in 2012, leaving the defense with considerable gaps in the secondary, yet the defense was very successful to close out the season. The cut made sense, but left the Panthers with a lot of questions in the secondary. James Anderson was also another cap casualty, but he was also one of the few defenders we could depend on. He was a contingency plan for Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, both of whom's injury history weren't exactly something us Panthers fans could look at and feel calm about as far as starters were concerned. Gamble retired, and Anderson went to Chicago.
Along with those players, the Panthers also saw the departure of players who were scheduled free agents. Andre Neblett and Dwan Edwards both were scheduled free agents at defensive tackle, a position Carolina hadn't been strong at to begin with in YEARS. Captain Munnerlyn would be leaving for free agency following Gamble's release, leaving Carolina with no veteran presence at cornerback and two players who had started on opposite sides of the field in the past. At the start of free agency, Carolina's glaring holes were the secondary, defensive tackle, wide receiver depth, and backup tight ends. But depth was also a concern at nearly every position, so most Panthers fans weren't exactly excited about the current roster on March 12th, when free agency started.
Free Agency Begins
On March 12th, we had to again sit and watch as many of the top tier free agents went off the shelves, while news in Carolina was VERY quiet. It was a little disturbing, seeing all the holes and feeling like Gettleman wasn't trying hard enough to address them. I was sitting at a hotel room in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, watching the current free agency news and slobbering over many of the available players. But many were grabbed up quickly, while Carolina had literally made ZERO moves on the first day.
On March 13th, CB Drayton Florence was signed to a one year deal. He addressed a need at defensive back, but he wasn't exactly someone to get excited about. I did, but only because he was a veteran upgrade over the young talent we had at the time. There were other cornerbacks available but the price would be higher. Unfortunately, those are the sacrifices you have to make as a cap challenged team.
As we concluded week one of free agency, the Panthers had signed/resigned only Drayton Florence and QB Derek Anderson. And the Panthers community wasn't exactly happy about it, sound familiar?
Week Two And On
This was when it got a little fun, and us Panthers fans began to see what Gettleman's plan was. From March 18th to the 22nd, the Panthers signed five free agents, all of which appeared slotted for considerable playing time (or at least a chance at it). TE Ben Hartsock and CB Captain Munnerlyn were familiar faces that gave us continuity at their positions, while S Mike Mitchell, CB DJ Moore, and WR Ted Ginn were all new faces who hadn't gotten much playing time with their former teams. As we know now, Mitchell and Ginn were two of our best pickups last year and both had outstanding years for the price we paid. Captain Munnerlyn had arguably his best year as a Panther, and flourished in the joker/nickel role. From then on, we'd see OLB Chase Blackburn, DT Dwan Edwards, WR Domenik Hixon, and others follow.
All of these players had the potential to be big contributors here in Carolina. Blackburn's play was about as good as Jon Beason's, allowing us to trade him away without much drop off. Dwan Edwards was slated to be a starter with Colin Cole prior to the draft. Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon brought veteran depth to the team, allowing us to cut ties with the young players with "potential" but no proven production. Gettleman's signings addressed many key needs with quality talent, all at a low cap friendly price. Later in the offseason Gettleman would also bring in Quintin Mikell and Travelle Wharton, both big contributors.
It is important to stay patient here. Greg Hardy's retention is going to cost us some free agents. But if you think about it, was Mike Mitchell really a big reason why our defense succeeded? Was Ted Ginn a big reason our offense succeeded? Did Captain Munnerlyn's play impact our number two ranked defense all that much? To those points I argue no. Sure, Mitchell and Munnerlyn played well, but with how good our front seven has been most corners would flourish in our system. They don't have to cover their receivers as long. Ted Ginn was a pleasant surprise as a boom-bust wide receiver, but do you really think he'd see the field more than, say, a 1st or 2nd round pick at wide receiver? They all got the kind of money that we cannot afford currently, and when I look at those three guys I ask myself; "Would I rather have them, or Greg Hardy?". Steve Smith's situation had a great deal of behind the scenes reasons, he wasn't a cap casualty. But for all the players that we signed to one year deals who now are getting paid, I still would rather have Greg Hardy. Gettleman's method last year was simple, retain the core, and build around them. The heart and soul of our defense is the front seven, the heart and soul of our offense is the running game
In closing, be patient Panthers fans. I know all of us (myself included) are quite unhappy about the Steve Smith situation, it was heart wrenching and disturbing to see a true Panther such as Smith cast aside like that. But all is not lost because we haven't signed anyone yet. It's obvious the Panthers are trying, as we brought in Hakeem Nicks, Roman Harper, and others this past week. We also made an offer to Anthony Collins. But until Hardy's long term deal is worked out, until more cap space is freed up, we must be patient. I expect a little more action in week two of free agency, if Gettleman's history tells us anything.