The offensive line is mostly fixed, at least for the coming season. There's a new quarterback in town and no option in free agency that could/would really help the 2022 Panthers, including Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garappolo. But, there are position groups that still need an influx of talent for the upcoming season. edge rusher, wide receiver and middle linebacker are the weakest areas for the upcoming season and there are players that can help this coming season.
Let's take a look.
Jadaveon Clowney, Jarvis Landry, and...
It's always the desire to get the "best available" when looking at free agents, and there are a lot of articles out there right now that say the Panthers should go after these two guys. But financially it doesn't make sense. According to overthecap.com, the Panthers stand right now at around $29 million in available cap space. Sure, they could fit those two guys under that figure, but the team needs to roll over as much of that as possible because the Panthers right now are sitting at -$11 million for 2023.
Here's three players I think can fill a need and help the 2022 Carolina Panthers.
DE Jerry Hughes
He'll be 34 this coming season, but he's still playing at a high level. The Panthers really need a rotational pass rusher to take some pressure of Brian Burns and Yetur Gross-Matos, the latter who may or may not make it through a full season. The pass rush is in dire straights and they need a veteran who can come in situationally and provide solid play.
Contract: 1 year, $3.5 million
WR Keelon Cole
What? He sucks, why the hell would they get him? Well, while his production doesn't jump off the page, he's a solid contributor as a No. 3 slot receiver over his career. Take his production stats with a grain of salt and consider the best quarterback he's played with was Blake Bortles. He'd be a low cost efficient slot guy in McAdoo's west coast offense.
Contract: 1 year, $4.5 million
LB Alexander Johnson
With Damien Wilson's legal issues looming, it's not a given he'll be on the team Week 1, and without sliding Shaq Thompson back inside, which would be a huge mistake after his breakout year, the Panthers have zero bodies at middle linebacker. Johnson isn't an upper tier linebacker, but he is a solid starting NFL level linebacker. He'd fill a position of huge need for the upcoming season, and he'd keep Brandon Smith off the field as much as possible.
Contract: 2 years, $4 million
With these signings the roster is improved, and they come at a cost for all three that is a lot less than signing one or the other of Clowney or Landry. They could probably be okay without Cole, but the edge rusher and linebacker groups need help and they need it soon. I'd sign all three, but Hughes and Johnson are the best, cost efficient, solutions that are still available to the two biggest problem areas. Without an edge rusher and middle linebacker signing before the season opener, the highly regarded 2021 defensive unit will take a step back in 2022, maybe a huge one.