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Upon Further Review: Panthers 2015 Free Agency Class

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A look at the free agent signees that the Carolina Panthers made prior to the 2015 season.

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

As a Panthers fan, you should be accustomed to a certain style that GM Dave Gettleman follows when it comes to free agency, and that is budget friendly. That style has paid dividends for the Panthers in the past. In 2013, Gettleman brought in free agents like Ted Ginn, Mike Mitchell, Chase Blackburn, and brought back others, all on one year contracts to help patch up some holes in his team. Gettleman was able to stay within his budget (which was severely limited) while making a Panthers squad that could be competitive. The Panthers went 12-4 as most of his free agent rentals either retired or went on to greener pastures in 2014. That year, Gettleman was not as successful with his free agent pickups, but due to a strong draft that Panthers squad was able to once again make the playoffs. He still managed to grab a few contributors in Jerricho Cotchery and Roman Harper, but unfortunately Gettleman didn't quite have enough money to wrangle in some bigger names with more of a ceiling.

This season, Gettleman had much more wiggle room with the cap and a much broader pool of free agents to choose from. Plus, his Panthers squad had proven itself relevant enough for players wanting to join a competitive team. And while free agency got off to the same slow start Panthers fans have come to expect, Gettleman delivered a class of players that truly helped round out the 2015 Panthers.


Gems

Michael Oher-signed 03/06/15

Oher was probably the most scrutinized signing of the offseason. There were many high dollar options, but as Gettleman said we weren't ready to be shopping those. After a down year in Tennessee Oher came at a low price of 7 million for two years. That's a pretty good deal for a left tackle considering the going price. However, nearly everyone of us, myself included, couldn't place our faith in Oher as the blindside protector. Well, we were wrong. He did an outstanding job protecting Cam Newton as the entire offensive line finally stabilized itself and kept Cam upright all season, allowing him to finally show everyone what he was made of. Can't complain one bit about this signing. It was a huge need with Byron Bell departing for free agency with only Nate Chandler and a slew of right tackles waiting in the wings. The Panthers didn't have to empty their pocketbook for a guy who ended up being a major contributor.

Ted Ginn-signed 03/09/15

After Ginn earned himself a good contract in Arizona he sputtered out and hit the market again after only one year. Gettleman was quick to pull the trigger on Ginn, who demonstrated an uncanny knack to play like a legitimate NFL receiver with Cam Newton at the helm. Originally, Ginn was only slated to be the number three guy at best, as a change of pace guy who can take the deep shots. But, with Kelvin Benjamin's injury and a slowed development in Devin Funchess, the Panthers needed a wide receiver Cam could trust. And surprisingly, Ginn ended up being that guy.

Despite ill timed drops on easy catches, Cam continued to look Ginn's way, and it showed with career highs in touchdowns (10) and yards per catch (16.8). It wasn't always pretty but Ginn found a way to help the Panthers, and we got a bit more than we expected out of him. Good job on Ginn, and Cam Newton for making Ginn look much better than he is.


Kurt Coleman-signed 03/16/2015

After a good year as a rotational safety in Kansas City, the Panthers brought Coleman in under the promise that he'd get a chance to compete. Originally may of us thought he'd be competing with Roman Harper, but in the end it was Tre Boston who lost his spot after a close training camp battle. Instead of becoming a rotational guy for depth, Coleman was starting week one. And man, did he make an impression. Tied for second in the NFL in interceptions, Coleman set career highs in that category and in pass deflections. One could argue that often times Coleman was in the right place for his interceptions, but 7 of them don't happen by accident. Coleman consistently put himself in the right place and played great ball. There were a couple of hiccups on long balls, but for a guy the team got on a 2 year, 2.8 million dollar contract, he was an absolute steal. And the Panthers have him for another year!

Charles Tillman-signed 04/09/2015

It's really a darn shame that Tillman isn't going to play in the playoffs, and it's not just because the Panthers need him on the field. There was a noticeable emphasis on forcing more turnovers, and it wasn't just interceptions. The Panthers lead the league in forced turnovers, and the biggest reason behind that is a mentality change for the entire defense. Josh Norman is an especially good example of this, as many of the players did their best "Peanut Punch" impression all year, not just Tillman. Peanut's impact as a player coach more than made his contract justifiable, and the Panthers are fortunate that he will still be around as a teacher throughout their journey.

Other positive signings

  • You might remember my slightly sarcastic way of breaking this news, but the acquisition of Teddy Williams followed Gettleman's clear push to improve special teams play, and Williams was about the only FA signing that actually stuck around come 53 man roster cuts. Williams showed well in the preseason on defense, but hardly touched the field as a corner in 2015. He only played special teams as a coverage ace, and responded with 13 total tackles as he and Colin Jones gave the Panthers two gunners with blazing speed. Each week returners on punts often had trouble getting anywhere after fielding the kick, and a lot of that has to do with Williams and Jones. Solid signing by Gettleman, he did exactly what he was brought in to do.
  • Both Cortland Finnegan and Robert McClain were late season acquisitions who have played well in the absence of Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman. Finnegan locked down the nickel spot while McClain has stepped in as the outside guy. Both will have significant roles in the playoffs, and could be the difference between success and failure. Their performance in the playoffs will likely define these guys 2015 season.
  • The Panthers brought back Fernando Velasco after Andrew Norwell went down with an injury and Kalil was hampered. He's a solid stop gap guard in place of injuries.

Busts/Signings that didn't fit

  • Jarrett Boykin had every opportunity to make this roster at wide receiver. We know now that pretty much any receiver on the 53 man roster contributed in some way this year, and Boykin could very easily have allowed the Panthers not to feel the need to trade for Kevin Norwood. However when you pair his struggles with good camps from Philly Brown, Ted Ginn, and Brenton Bersin the Panthers just didn't have room for him. The Panthers were able to keep Bersin on the PS so retaining Boykin just didn't make a whole lot of sense on the 53.
  • The Panthers claimed Jonathan Martin off waivers, and he had a legitimate chance to earn himself a starting job. But after struggling with injury, he retired. It was a low risk signing and capped off a career that ultimately proved Martin just didn't have what it takes to play in the NFL, at least mentally. Another one on the injury front was Stephen Hill, who the Panthers seemed legitimately excited to have on the roster before he got knocked out for the year.
  • Both RB Jordan Todman and LB Jason Trusnik were brought in primarily for special teams play. Todman played well during the preseason but ultimately was jettisoned when the Panthers chose to retain Brandon Wegher, who they seem to be high on despite not giving him any touches. Jason Trusnik lost his spot to 5th round pick David Mayo, who pretty much filled the spot Trusnik would have had. This is more a testament to Mayo's versatility and less a knock on Trusnik.

It's a testament to the frugal Gettleman to look back and not see any signings that are terribly regrettable. Many teams break the bank in free agency and end up with a bust that they are on the hook for years later. Gettleman's modus operandi is to find low risk, low cost signings to help patch up holes on the roster. This was one of his better years, especially when you look at the Jared Allen deal. Chicago ended up being on the hook for nearly 12 million where the Panthers paid about 800k for his services. Gettleman's done a great job of not digging his team into a hole during free agency and finding great players in the draft. The success of this season should only continue with Gettleman at the helm.