It has been a roller coaster ride for the Carolina Panthers’ first week of training camp in the Spartanburg heat. The biggest news thus far has been catastrophic injuries to incredibly thin position groups as “All Pro” right tackle Darryl WIlliams suffered a knee injury that will keep him out at least 6-8 weeks and free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell suffered a fractured tibia and fibula that all but ended his season before it even got started. Both of these injuries have opened up a chance for a couple bright spots through camp so far, mainly sophomore Taylor Moton getting some quality reps in at right tackle and rookie Donte Jackson showing some promise as the probable corner opposite James Bradberry.
The problem for the Panthers lies in the lack of proven depth at both positions. As it stands now, Amini Silatolu might very well be the starting left guard since Moton has moved to right tackle. Should another tackle miss time this season, it is well within Ron Rivera’s MO to have SIlatolu all of a sudden starting at tackle if the need arises. That possibility should result in Cam Newton’s health insurance premiums skyrocketing, though I will have to double check whether or not “Amini Silatolu blocking for you” is considered a pre-existing condition. While the tackle position in free agency is fairly thin, the guard spot could be solidified. There are a few household names available such as JR Sweezy, Jahri Evans, and former second overall pick Luke Joeckel, who moved to guard after tackle did not work out for him.
The secondary was already thin overall and now cornerback is full of unproven young guys and journeymen. The best options for the Panthers at corner could be some older but still solid players, since they should come a little cheaper. As Brian mentioned in a previous article, players like Sean Smith, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Ladarius Webb could all fit the bill. The Panthers were probably at least keeping tabs on some safeties out there as well, but now that rookie safety Rashon Gaulden may have to help out at corner at times, another safety is almost a dire need at this point. Safeties also in the “aged but not expired” category include Mike Mitchell and TJ Ward. There are also some younger guys entering their primes at safety who are worth looking at, including Kenny Vaccaro and Eric Reid.
Spotrac estimates that the Panthers should have about $2 million in cap space after making cuts. Spotrac also estimates that someone like Reid should make about $8.5 million per season. It would take some surprise veteran cuts at other positions to open up enough space for Reid. Even if the Panthers attempt to sign a lower level guy at guard, corner, and safety, they may still have to move some things around or work some extensions. So while there are some nice names out there who could help this team, I expect Hurney to take a wait and see approach before pulling the trigger. Let’s just all hope that somehow, some way, Amini gets beat for the starting left guard job.