- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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Part 2 of my position-by-position analysis of the Carolina Panthers' roster focuses on what New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes referred to this past season as "the weakest link on their defense."
The Panthers took offense.
What should be noted is that this position was the weakest link to a defense ranked second in the NFL.
Next up: Secondary
2013 grade: B-minus. This group had 14 of the team's 20 interceptions. It also had the most breakdowns when opponents made big plays, earning the wrath that really wasn't wrath from Holmes.
Under contract (2014 salary cap number): FS Charles Godfrey ($7,100,000), SS Robert Lester ($495,000), FS Colin Jones ($645,000), CB Melvin White ($497,500), CB Josh Norman ($619,750), CB Josh Thomas ($660,000). Total: ($10,017,250).
Good news: Not a lot with undrafted rookie cornerback Melvin White the only starter under contract. That's not counting free safety Charles Godfrey, who was the starter before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the second game against Buffalo. But Godfrey's replacement, Mike Mitchell, had a stellar season and he's a free agent. More on that in the bad news.
Bad news: Three of the four players who finished the season as starters -- FS Mike Mitchell, SS Quintin Mikell and CB Captain Munnerlyn -- are free agents. Godfrey has a large salary cap figure of $7.1 million. To make this a good situation the Panthers will need to either restructure Godfrey's contract or possibly cut him. To do it now would save only $2.1 million. To wait until June could save $5.1 million. One solution could be to keep a restructured Godfrey at free safety and move Mitchell back to strong where he was before Godfrey was injured. That might make Mikell expendable. Regardless, the salary-cap strapped Panthers have some work to do here. It might be time to let one or both of the Joshes go despite their low cap figure.
The draft: The biggest difference between Carolina's No. 2 defense and the world champion Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 defense was the secondary, specifically cornerback. The draft is deep enough at corner that the Panthers could find a starter in the first two rounds. A player such as Florida's Marcus Roberson (6-0, 186) has been mentioned as a possible first-round selection. What Carolina does with Munnerlyn and in free agency will decide the strategy here.