1. Carolina brought back Greg Hardy
Carolina retaining Greg Hardy on the franchise tag is a huge move by Panthers GM Dave Gettleman. For a man who has shown hesitance to spending money, I have to say that this was unexpected. Paying Hardy $13.116 million may be a bit ludicrous, but it was the only way Carolina could make sure this defensive beast stays on the roster. Carolina’s defense was second in the league in defensive rating last season (per http://www.oddsshark.com). To maintain that high ranking for next season, Carolina had no choice but to keep Hardy. Carolina had 60 sacks last season, and Greg Hardy accounted for 25% of them (15.0 sacks). They also had 30 tackles for loss, which Hardy contributed to with 5 of those under his name. Those numbers along with his 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defensed, and 59 tackles, Hardy is a must to have next season for Carolina (stats courtesy of espn.go.com). Hardy alongside Charles Johnson and Luke Kuechly form a scary front line for Carolina. With the loss of Mike Mitchell, Quintin Mikell, and Captain Munnerlyn in the secondary, losing Hardy would have been too devastating a loss in the eyes of fans and players to let happen.
2.Carolina filled defensive holes
As mentioned previously, the loss of almost the whole starting secondary of Mike Mitchell, Quintin Mikell, and Captain Munnerlyn was not expected or wanted by anyone in Carolina. Each of these players proved themselves last season. Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell were both FA signings due to Injuries early in the season. They turned out to be one of the scariest strong safety/free safety combos in the league last year. Mitchell provided 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 8 passes defensed. Mikell provided 59 tackles, 3 sacks, and 6 passes defensed. Each of those guys provided 2 forced fumbles. Munnerlyn stood out as Carolinas best CB with 2 interceptions, 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 12 passes defensed. The losses of these players will be felt. But here to lighten the blow of these losses comes the veteran presence of Antoine Cason, Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper. Cason coming from Arizona brings in 2 interceptions, 12 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 passes defensed, and 1 defensive touchdown. While these numbers are not as good as Munnerlyn, they still provide veteran skill to support young guys like Josh Norman and Robert Lester. DeCoud and Harper both come from fellow NFC South teams and are coming off mediocre years. DeCoud brings in 44 tackles, 2 passes defensed, and a fumble recovery. Harper shows up with 27 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, and a pass defensed. While these numbers are not head turning, these players bring one vital thing. Playoff experience. Carolina’s defense is very young, constantly shuffling in rookie after rookie last season due to injury. Harper bring Super Bowl victory experience to this Super Bowl hopeful team. DeCoud has played in the postseason 4 times in his career. Both these guys will make the transition to new defensive starters easier. I would expect pretty good numbers from all 3 of these guys next season given the opportunity.
3. Carolina walks away with more weapons for Cam than last season
Believe it or not, Carolina is leaving NFL Free Agency with a better receiving core than what it started with. The loss of Steve Smith cannot be overstated. He was the heart and soul of this team since he was drafted out of Utah. He provided Cam with a consistent deep threat or short ball catcher. Even though his numbers were not ever something to be scared of under Cam, his heart and fight was always what got Carolina going. He was there through times, thick or thin, and was every Panther’s fans favorite player. I still do not agree with what Gettleman provided as the reason the Panthers cut Smith. The Panthers felt a $2 million cap relief from getting out of his contract this offseason. $2 million is nothing to these teams. Gettleman stated it was a personnel issue. This does not explain the move. Compounded with the loss of LaFell and Ginn, Panthers fans felt pretty down this offseason. Looking back from an analytical point of view now though, the Panthers may have done well for themselves this offseason.
The addition of Tiquan Underwood, Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery, and Ed Dickson all deepen Carolina’s ranks. Avant’s career numbers of 297 receptions, 3,646 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns all show that he is capable of taking over perhaps the WR #1 role. Cotchery’s veteran presence and career stats of 437 receptions. 5558 receiving yards, and 3o touchdowns provide comfort at the WR #2 position. Underwood has massive potential (and really cool hair) and his career stats of 63 receptions, 1oo6 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns show a lot of room for improvement for this speedster. Ed Dickson was brought in to provide depth at tight end behind Greg Olsen, something that Carolina has not had for a long time. His numbers of 111 receptions, 1,178 receiving yards, and 7 touchdowns show he can be a capable TE #2. Overall, Carolina has grown its receiving core to be deeper and younger, so maybe Carolina can pick up where it left off last season and shoot to the top of the NFC once again.
4. Its Not Over
Carolina has done well this offseason despite being pretty cap strapped. The chances of Carolina landing another big name player is slim, but possible. With names like Miles Austin, Santonio Holmes, and Sidney Rice still on the open market, it would be a good move to bring in one of them to be a top receiver. All of these guys are most likely better options than Avant or Cotchery at WR #1. All have shown that they can be clutch star receivers. If Carolina decides they are too thin at WR, these guys could definitely be had at the right price. Also they are a bit weak at CB, and players like Jabari Greer and Quentin Jammer are available. Those could also be signed at a pretty low price now that we approach the time where FAs stop worrying about how much money they can get this offseason and start worrying about IF they will get money at all this season.
All stats courtesy of espn.go.com unless otherwise cited