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Top free agent wide receiver targets for the Panthers

The Carolina Panthers badly need help at wide receiver, and they have a decent free agent crop to go after.

Minnesota Vikings v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Carolina Panthers badly need help at the wide receiver position. 74 year old Adam Thielen ended up being the team’s best wide receiver by a pretty significant margin, and his athletic limitations largely limited him to a short area target. The Panthers had next to no threats on the outside and it hampered their offensive spacing and made an already struggling offense more predictable as the season went on.

Fortunately for the Panthers, the 2024 free agent crop of wide receivers looks very promising and potentially very deep after roster cuts are made for salary cap relief. There’s a mix of players coming off their rookie deals and some pie in the sky veteran options they can target to try to bolster the supporting cast around quarterback Bryce Young. Let’s see some of the top, most realistic options.

Realistic free agent options

Tee Higgins (Bengals)

Higgins seems like the most natural fit. The Panthers reportedly tried to acquire him at the trade deadline, so there’s obviously interest there. The Bengals have a lot of big salaries to pay in the near future between Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, so they might struggle to fit Higgins into that equation. Higgins is a big bodied receiver that topped 1000 yards and six touchdowns in each of the two seasons prior to an injury plagued 2023 campaign. He just turned 25 years old, which makes him one of the younger targets on the market and makes him a good fit with a young Panthers roster.

Marquise Brown (Cardinals)

The Cardinals weren’t able to come to terms on an extension with Brown before the season, so now he’ll be a free agent in the spring. He’s missed some time each of the last two seasons, but he’s a good wide receiver when healthy. He’s an explosive threat but also functioned as a short area receiver for the Cardinals. He’d bring some much needed speed and explosiveness to the Panthers offense.

Calvin Ridley (Jaguars)

The Panthers ended up with DJ Moore out of the great DJ Moore vs Calvin Ridley debates of the 2018 NFL Draft season. Moore has obviously departed the team, and they could fill that void with Ridley. He’s a very good route runner that’s topped 1000 yards in each of his last two full seasons. The Jaguars have good targets in Christian Kirk and Evan Engram. They may elect to allocate resources elsewhere and let Ridley walk. It also reduces the compensation they owe the Falcons in the trade in which they acquired Ridley.

Gabe Davis (Bills)

Davis would be a second attempt at the DJ Chark experiment. He’s an all-or-nothing kind of player, but his ability to stretch a defense and actually make some plays while doing so is badly needed by the Panthers. He shouldn’t be expected to come in and be a top option, but he can be a good fall back option if the Panthers strike out on bigger targets.

Pie in the sky free agents

Mike Evans (Buccaneers)

We can pretend that Mike Evans enjoyed his time with Dave Canales and Brad Idzik so much that he’d leave his longtime home in Tampa to join a rebuilding Panthers team, right? It could happen, right? Probably (definitely) not, but it’d be cool.

Michael Pittman (Colts)

Pittman is a middle of the field target that’s probably redundant with Adam Thielen, but he’s much younger and much more productive. He probably won’t leave the Colts, but if he did, he’s a good talent that could look for a more versatile and explosive role with a new team.

Possible cap casualties

Keenan Allen/Mike Williams (Chargers)

The Chargers have a lot of money tied up in their two not-super-young receivers and not a lot of cap space to make other moves. It seems like they’ll have to at least one of them go, as releasing either one would save them over $20 million against the cap. Allen was insanely productive last season and simply knows how to get open. Williams doesn’t get open but can catch the ball anyway. Both have local ties—Allen is from Greensboro and Williams is from South Carolina and went to Clemson. They both seem like realistic short term targets for the Panthers if and when they become available.

DeAndre Hopkins (Titans)

Hopkins has been on these type of lists a whole lot for a guy that’s still a very productive receiver. He’s another local guy that grew up in South Carolina and went to Clemson. He was rookie Will Levis’s top target in Tennessee last season and is one of the most reliable catchers of the football in the game. He’s not going to create separation, but his ability to make contested catches would be a welcome addition to this offense.

Diontae Johnson (Steelers)

The Steelers had quite a bit of drama within their wide receiver corps this season. George Pickens is clearly the better of the two, and the Steelers may elect to save $10 million in cap space to have just one of that pairing back next season. Johnson is a great route runner that creates a lot of separation and has some explosiveness to pop off big gains now and again.

There are several other intriguing names with varying levels of appeal for a Panthers team that is going to be a tough sell for free agents. Odell Beckham Jr. is out there. Curtis Samuel could be looking for a return to the team that drafted him. Brandin Cooks is overdue for a new team and is somehow still only 30 years old. The Buccaneers have a decision to make with Chris Godwin with new contracts for Evans and Baker Mayfield looming.

The Panthers are sure to target some of these guys in the summer, and hopefully it’ll result in a new exciting wide receiver for Panthers fans to cheer for next season.