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Examining the Panthers defense as we reach the second wave of NFL free agency

The Panthers made a few moves on defense, but building it in the image Ejiro Evero wants should see some more signings.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers are in a transition period as a whole, though Frank Reich and Ejiro Evero appear to be building around the established pieces on defense rather than blowing up the unit and starting over. They made a few signings, none of which being particularly flashy, but the move to a 3-4 should see some new faces via the second wave of free agency and the NFL Draft. Let’s dive in.

Defensive Line

Key Additions: DT Shy Tuttle, DL DeShawn Williams

The two defensive line signings we’ve seen so far were meant to build the barracks on the 3-4 interior front, as Shy Tuttle is projected to be the teams starting nose tackle, sliding Derrick Brown to the 3-4 defensive end spot in base formations. Tuttle’s career so far has seen him as a 4-3 defensive tackle, so it will be interesting to see this transition as a smaller player than one would expect at the 3-4 nose. Williams started 15 games as a 3-4 DE for the Broncos last year under Evero’s watch, so I would expect him to slate in as the starter opposite Brown in base formations.

The rest of the DL room will be adapted from Matt Rhule/Phil Snow’s defense from the last few seasons. Brian Burns is going to be one of the outside linebackers, while I would expect a combination of Marquis Haynes and Frankie Luvu to man the other side, barring a signing of a true 3-4 outside linebacker. Amare Barno flashed as an edge rusher at times last season as well, and a 3-4 OLB role for him appears to be a better fit than as a true defensive end. The bottom line here is that while Carolina’s stated defensive front is 3-4, I’d expect a lot of hybrid looks from Evero to put the current talent in the best situation to succeed. Still, another pass rusher could be in the cards.


Key Additions: Zero, Shaq Thompson (restructure)

One of the bigger question marks coming into the offseason was how this new coaching staff would handle Shaq Thompson’s 24 million dollar cap figure in 2023. They elected to give him a one year extension and shed a few million off the books for this year’s cap. Evero specifically mentioned Shaq as someone he was excited to work with, so this move isn’t surprising. Shaq will work alongside Frankie Luvu, who I expect to be used all over the defense this season. Luvu can do a lot of things from various positions along the defensive front.

The biggest change here is that Jeremy Chinn is expected to go back to his hybrid DB/LB role he held in his rookie year, where he excelled. I wouldn’t expect the team to use Chinn as a linebacker in the traditional sense, however as a big nickel, 3-3-5 linebacker, or robber type role around the line of scrimmage should play to his strengths. Beyond that, the Panthers have Rhule holdover Brandon Smith, a highly athletic 4th round pick from last season. He could end up being used as more of a pass rusher, but I am excited to see what Evero comes up with for his role if he takes a couple of steps forward.


Key Additions: Zero

The Panthers will return to 2023 with most of their CB room intact, with a top 3 of Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, and CJ Henderson. Horn and Jackson are both coming off injuries, though Horn’s fractured wrist shouldn’t be much of an issue for his 2023 season. Jackson, on the other hand, is rehabbing a torn Achilles and took a pay cut to miss a 4 million dollar roster bonus.

I could see Carolina going after a veteran here, as Henderson hasn’t taken the step forward you’d expect from a 1st round pick, and behind him are mostly holdovers from Rhule. Myles Hartsfield also departed in free agency to join Steve Wilks in San Francisco, so the Panthers definitely need to figure out a plan for the nickel role.


Key Additions: Vonn Bell

The Panthers’ plan at safety is the most interesting story line to me for the defense going into the 2023 season. Jeremy Chinn (as mentioned above) is slated to return to his hybrid role, and to spell that the Panthers signed Vonn Bell and restructured Xavier Woods to free up some cap. They also tendered Sam Franklin as a restricted free agent, who made his mark on special teams but also saw meaningful snaps as a reserve safety.

As a safety mark, I would like to see them add at least one more via the Draft or free agency, so that’s just the former defensive back in me. I think Bell and Woods will be a solid enough duo to allow the team to use Chinn in ways that play to his strengths, but an injury to either of them certainly muddies the waters.

What moves would you like to see the Panthers make on defense?