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Panthers 2021 season opener countdown: 84 days to go

We’re counting down the days until the Panthers kick off the 2021 season.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’re 84 days away from the Carolina Panthers 2021 season opener, so that means today’s countdown piece is devoted to No. 84 on the roster — tight end Stephen Sullivan.

The Panthers signed Sullivan to a reserve/futures contract in February 2021. Before explaining why they signed him, let’s first answer the most pressing question - what the heck is a reserve/futures contract?

Per the Falcons team website (sorry, but it was the best I could find), “A reserve/future contract guarantees that a player cannot be signed by another team. It goes into effect once the new league year begins and will count towards the next season’s salary cap and 90-man roster limit for offseason activities and training camp. Only players not on an active roster at the conclusion of the regular season are eligible for a reserve/future contract.”

So with that out of the way, Sullivan was a 2020 seventh round pick by the Seattle Seahawks and boy did he have a bizarre rookie season. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds he played both wide receiver and tight end during his college career at LSU. Seattle opted to move him to tight end but he wasn’t successful, so they moved him to the practice squad to experiment at defensive end. Talk about versatility.

In his rookie season last year he appeared in one game (Week 8) where he played 22 defensive snaps and recorded one tackle.

But before Seattle could move Sullivan to yet another position - long snapper, perhaps? - he underwent a surgery in November and finished the season on the practice squad. But at the end of the season the practice squad dissolved and he became a free agent, thus allowing the Panthers to sign him despite Seattle drafting him in 2020 and actually putting him on the field.

During his three seasons at LSU Sullivan recorded 46 receptions for 712 yards and three touchdowns while playing for now Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady. This familiarity with Brady plus Carolina’s relative lack of depth at tight end could give Sullivan at least a sliver of a chance of latching on with the Panthers.

Sullivan’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS) is interesting. His 7.44 RAS is considered “Okay” but it came after “Elite” explosion (vertical and broad jumps), “Great” speed ratings (40-yard dash), but “Very Poor” agility (shuttle and 3-cone drill).

The Panthers have really bolstered the tight end position this offseason with the additions of free agent Dan Arnold and investing a third round pick in Tommy Tremble (No. 83 overall). Ian Thomas is entering the final year of his rookie contract and will be fighting for his NFL career after back-to-back disappointing seasons. Colin Thompson is also returning after playing 183 offensive snaps over 15 games last year, recording one reception for a seven-yard touchdown.

Sullivan’s rookie season was a bizarre one. We’ll see how Year 2 plays out.