I’m not in the mood yet to recap the Panthers 2007 season but I will get to it in the next week or so. I’m more focused on potential free agent activity leading up to the draft. As I put time into researching this I’m immediately struck by how many variables you have to work with.
Which Panther free agents should we resign? How aggressive should we be in resigning each free agent? What other free agents should we go after? This draft has a lot of offensive linemen but few wide receivers, should we go after a free agent tackle and draft a WR. It’s tough even without the salary cap to worry about. I’ve heard a number of pundits say the Panthers are in one of the worst cap situations in the league so we need to look at dumping some of the dead wood.
Here’s the list of the Panthers current free agents, their years of experience and their 2007 cap cost to give you an estimate of what they may cost us if we resign them.
FB Brad Hoover - 8th season - $1.34M – Hoover has been a good fullback over the years and I see no reason to not bring him back. Hoover is a good blocker and can catch passes out of the backfield on occasion. He shouldn’t cost too much as being in his 8th season he won’t command a lot on the market. I don’t see anyone on the roster who could replace him at this point.
WR Drew Carter – 4th – $1.3M - Carter finished with 38 receptions for 517 yards and 4 TD’s. He got 2 of those TD’s in the season opener. Carter had 2 good games this season but more often than not he disappeared when we needed him. He did not establish himself as the #2 WR opposite Smith and I have no reason to believe he will next season. He suffers from an inability to get open and dropping the ball. If he wants more money than I say let him walk. Otherwise resign him for 1-2 more seasons and let him fight for a spot.
WR Keary Colbert – 4th – $795K - Colbert finished with 32 receptions for 332 before getting injured with about three games left. Colbert is also prone to drops. The Panthers just need to cut this guy loose.
OL Evan Mathis – 3rd - $615K – Mathis was a reserve who rarely got in the game this season. He can play guard or tackle but played tackle on special teams. He filled in at guard in the 2006 season when Wharton got hurt but got beat out by Jeremy Bridges this preseason. If he’s looking for more money I would let him walk but he may be an OK back-up in 2008 if he’s happy with that. I don’t see him improving enough to be a starter.
OL Travelle Wharton – 4th - $598K – Wharton started and played left tackle the entire season and is due a pay increase. The question is just how much. I don’t see the Panthers throwing enough money at him to keep him happy so I bet he tests the market. If Wharton walks it puts a lot of pressure on the front office to bring in a FA and/or draft a rookie early in the 2008 draft. I know extending the contracts of Julius Peppers and Jordan Gross will get a lot of attention this off-season but I see the Wharton decision just as key to 2008. If we can get him at a decent price then I say keep him but I doubt that happens.
OL Geoff Hangartner – 3rd - $470K – Geoff was a very capable back-up in 2007 and given he is young he could still develop into a starter at guard or center. If he wants a lot more money then let him walk but I say resign him at a slight raise.
DT Damione Lewis – 7th - $2.55M – I thought Lewis played well as a back-up playing on passing downs. He tied for the team lead in sacks with four and chipped in 29 combined tackles. If it’s up to me I say sign him for $3M or less and dump Kemo who has a $5M cap hit in 2008. We can pick up a project DT late in the draft or even UFA.
DT Kindall Moorehead – 5th - $725K - Moorehead only put up 19 tackles and 2 sacks in limited action as a back-up but he is a bargain at his salary. He is still fairly young so we should give him a slight raise and increase his playing time.
DE Mike Rucker – 9th - $4.437M - I’m expecting Rucker to announce his retirement sometime this off-season which will free up a little cap space. Mike has been a good player for the Panthers in his nine seasons and we will miss him. It’s time to bring in new blood so expect the Panthers to look at adding another DE in the draft for free agency.
LB Na’il Diggs – 8th - $1.35M – I thought Diggs played well as he tied for the team lead in sacks at four. Though he probably sits the bench if Dan Morgan comes back I say resign him even if it costs a little more money. If Morgan returns in 2008 (to the weak-side LB position I assume) he won’t last long and Diggs will be back on the field.
LB Adam Seward - 3rd - $478K – I really Seward would have his break-out year in 2007 but then he got hurt before the season started. He eventually returned but saw little playing time and was a non-factor. He seems to have loads of talent and speed so I hope the Panthers resign him, even at a slight raise if needed.
S Deke Cooper – 5th - $435K – Deke tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3 but I think we have seen the best Deke can do. I will once again be screaming for more help at free safety this off-season, either through free agency or the draft. Deke came pretty cheap so if he’s looking for a lot more money then let him walk but would bring him back at his current price at the most.
OL Jordan Gross - 5th - $3.35M Gross will command a big pay raise and I bet the Panthers pay it. He should be in line to collect around $7M a year. Gross played well this year only giving up one sack I believe from the final stats. I thought he started the season slow but came on in the end and had a signature game against Seattle's Patrick Kearney.
In summary I would give priority to resigning Gross, Hoover, Hangartner, Lewis, and Diggs. The rest I wouldn’t mind bringing back but I wouldn’t get in a bidding war for them.
I’m going to put this list in the left sidebar of the front page of the blog to keep everyone updated going forward.
I left Gross off the poll below to not skew the results since I figure everyone agrees he is a top priority.
Which Panther free agent should be the top priority to resign?
This poll is closed