The Carolina Panthers signed second round pick defensive end Kony Ealy to his rookie contract on Thursday, meaning the pass rusher will have no barriers to his full participation in training camp.
Holdouts have largely become a thing of the past thanks to changes made to rookie contracts in the collective bargaining agreement, but there are still edge cases where agents are unhappy with offset language that can prevent players from signing quickly. In recent years the Panthers haven't tried to push offset language into contracts, which is a good thing.
News of Greg Hardy's arrest thrust Ealy from potential contributor into the limelight following the draft. Once seen as a rotational pass rusher who would need seasoning inside the Panthers system, there's a good chance we could see him take on a bigger role in 2014. The team has been looking for a signature third pass rusher to complement Charles Johnson and Hardy, with Frank Alexander being mostly disappointing since his selection in 2012 while Mario Addision is a nice rotational player, but may never develop into a regular threat.
Ealy's ability to play outside and inside is what has the team most excited. Dave Gettleman spoke about his versatility in his post-draft press conference, so expect that to be one of the rookie's calling cards in year one. On third down he has the ability to slide inside and play defensive tackle in a "NASCAR package," which has become an increasing trend in the NFL.
The idea of a speed package is simple: Overwhelm an offensive line with too many quick weapons. While Ealy wasn't the fastest defensive end at the combine, his speed and agility rate him high when kicked inside. This is a technique we saw employed with Greg Hardy last season, which could free up the Kraken to move back to the outside on third down while Ealy fills his role on the interior, along with Kawann Short.
It gives the Panthers options, which is always an exciting premise when you have a creative defensive coordinator like Sean McDermott. His blitz packages are advanced and creative, typically bringing defensive backs up to the line of scrimmage to pair with an overwhelming pass rush up front. It's here where Ealy will thrive and it will be fun to see him in Spartanburg.