Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Free-agency review: Panthers
By David Newton
Most significant signing: TBA. So far the most significant thing the Carolina Panthers have done in free agency is cut their all-time leading receiver, Steve Smith, who wasn't a free agent until he was released. Their only signing of any significance is former New Orleans safety Roman Harper, a replacement for free safety Mike Mitchell. But his signing is borderline in the significance column. Significant will come when Carolina finally signs a wide receiver, since at the moment quarterback Cam Newton has none with an NFL catch on the roster.
Most significant loss: Now this I can talk about, since that's what free agency has been all about for Carolina. The biggest loss among Carolina's free agents was Mitchell. The Panthers wanted to keep him, but Pittsburgh wanted him more (five years, $25 million). There have been two big losses among free agents from other teams that Carolina offered. The first was Cincinnati left tackle Anthony Collins, who went to NFC South rival Tampa Bay. The other was New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, who went to Indianapolis. Of the two, I'll say Collins was the biggest loss because it will be tougher to replace the retired Jordan Gross than a receiver.
Biggest surprise: After the release of Smith, which I still believe was a mistake, nothing has been a huge surprise. It's not big, but not finding a way to re-sign No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell (Patriots) or No. 3 Ted Ginn Jr. (Cardinals) to give Newton at least some sort of continuity from last season was at least mildly interesting. But maybe this was for the best. As I said repeatedly last season, LaFell was a disappointment as the No. 2. He was a No. 3 at best, although with Tom Brady now throwing to him, that could change. With no bona fide No. 1 available, maybe Carolina is thinking three bona fide No. 2s and a flashy draft pick will be better than a 1, 2 and 3.
What's next? General manager Dave Gettleman said all along he was looking for bargains in free agency, so letting the first wave pass with no fanfare doesn't come as a surprise. I suspected all along the Panthers would wait for the second and third wave to fill out their roster. They waited eight days before signing the majority of their free agents a year ago. Right now, they're targeting wide receivers. Pittsburgh's Jerricho Cotchery arrived for a visit Monday. They had interest in Green Bay's James Jones until he signed with Oakland late Monday afternoon. Carolina also is looking for a starting cornerback. A player like Arizona's Antoine Cason, who played for Carolina coach Ron Rivera at San Diego, could draw interest.